Death by suicide in Winnebago County may be more common than you think. There have been 48 suicide deaths this year alone.
Talking about suicide is crucial to preventing it, according to Rockford counselor, Kevin Polky.
Polky founded the group “Shatter Our Silence” after he attended three funerals for friends of his high school aged son.
The group highlights the factors that lead to suicide, and the stigma associated with suicide and mental illness.
“They tell us that talking about it is better for them. It’s the silence which causes the pain of that darkness, the pain to be even worse,” Polky says of the people his group has come in contact with.
For the Welch family, there is no greater pain than the loss of their son, Mark.
Mark’s brother, Matt, remembers him as someone who marched to the beat of his own drum.
“He was just a real free spirit. He loved being outside and [was] kind of a ‘rebel without a cause’ kind of person,” Matt said.
The Welch’s believe Mark’s battle with mental illness was what led him to become addicted to heroin.
“He had these voices that he couldn’t calm, in his head,” John Welch said. “And it was the use of the dope that would help to settle it for him, if that makes sense. It just got out of control on him.”
Mark overdosed on heroin several times. Last January, his parents came home to find Mark unconscious. Thinking he had overdosed, they took action.
“We started administering Noloxen at the time, and there was no response. And [his mother] said, ‘He’s not responding. It feels different this time.’ So, I gave her another syringe full and she administered the second syringe, and still nothing. So, I told her, ‘Let’s roll him over. We’ll start CPR.’ So we rolled him over and opened up his shirt… Tha’s when we found the gunshot wound,” John remembers.
The shock of Mark’s suicide and the heartbreaking loss his loved ones feel about his passing is why they say they’re speaking out. They say there’s no shame in seeking help for drug addiction or mental illness.
“There’s such a masculinity about, ‘I can deal with this on my own. I can do it,’ you know?” Matt said. “And I think we just need to… if you had a broken arm, you would go to the doctor. Nobody would question that. But, you know, if you’re feeling depressed, a lot of times, people don’t seek out help.”
Experts say the warning signs of suicide include: being depressed or sad most of the time; talking about death; a sense of hopelessness; feeling trapped and believing things aren’t ever going to change; and drug and alcohol abuse.
“When we start talking that way, it may be a suicidal ideation, it may be a death ideation,” Polky said. “Either way, that is not what we’d call ‘within a normal range.’ Something is going on. There’s some part of the story we need to learn more about. We need to help them talk about it and, hopefully, intervene.”
Bonnie Welch said, “Be aware of who they’re hanging around with. Be aware of what they’re doing on the internet. Just be aware. And, talk to your children.”
As difficult as it is, the Welch’s hope that sharing Mark’s story will ultimately help others.
“I have to try to use it to help other people,” Matt said. “‘Cause otherwise, it was truly meaningless and he’s just gone for no reason.”
Bonnie said, “You need to tell people everyday that you love them, that you care about them. Because, when they’re gone, it’s too late.”
If you, or a loved one, are facing challenges, help is available at suicidepreventionlifeline.org or call 1-800-273-8255.