Gina Bentle talks about the affect suicide has on the people left behind Monday, Nov. 14, 2016, at her home in Lancaster. Bentle's biological father and her fiance both committed suicide.
LANCASTER - Everyone knows that suicide cases spike during the holidays, right?
New Horizons Mental Health Services clinical director Nate Green said just the opposite is true - they traditionally drop in December and rise again in January. Green said December is the lowest month for death by suicide with the spring time being the highest period for them.
"Why does it go down during December?" he said. "Is it related to the holidays? Perhaps. Maybe if you're feeling depressed, you keep it together during the holidays. Even people who commit suicide might be thinking, 'Do I want to put my family through this right now?' Who knows why that is? Could it be a seasonal thing related to the weather? We really don't know the exact reasons. But it is a myth that suicides go up around the holidays."
But Green said the holidays might cause some people to be depressed and that they commit suicide in January instead. He said depression and other mental illnesses are the major factors in why someone may attempt suicide.
Whenever someone takes their life, it is a tragic event, and it happened 41,149 times in the United States in 2013, the Centers for Disease Control said. That equates to a rate of 12.6 per 100,000 people, 113 suicides each day and one every 13 minutes.
The CDC said death by suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in 2013; the latest year figures were available.
Green said older males are at a higher risk of suicide than others possibly because they may question their purpose in life after they retire or they may become ill as they age.
Green said more women attempt suicide, but that more men succeed. He also said there are not a lot of completed suicides in Fairfield County. There is a caveat, however.
"A lot of times they're under-reported," he said. "We know the data is low because many suicides are hard to tell they are suicides. A single car wreck. While usually, that's just a single car wreck, if it was a suicide we probably wouldn't know of that, even if there was a high suspicion of that."
Drug overdoses are further examples of it sometimes being difficult to call a death a suicide or attempted suicide, he said.
"There's no way to know," Green said. "I think most of those overdoses are non-intentional. But if they were intentional, how would you know without some hard evidence like a suicide note?"
A survivor's story
Suicide is an emotional and personal issue to Gina Bentle as her father and fiance both completed suicide.
"Being a survivor of suicide, it makes your risk for suicide go up exponentially if you had someone that you've lost to suicide," she said. "It puts you more at risk and certainly, it sets you into a tailspin. Losing someone to suicide is a completely different experience than just any other type of death. You're susceptible to depression, obviously. You have a lot of traumatic things to work through when you lose someone to suicide. So there's kind of a different focus after that type of death."
Bentle, a member of Lancaster City Council, is also a board member of the Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation. She went through grief counseling after her father's 2002 death and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and dealt with grief. She internalized that death, which came after her father was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He had also lost two close family members to cancer and did not seek treatment for himself.
"And then after my fiance's death (in 2011), it was a different experience," Bentle said. "The PTSD was different, and it was much more focused around trauma therapy rather than grief therapy."
She said she struggled with depression after each death and was in trauma therapy for 8 1/2 months after the second one.
"Going through the second death was a much more traumatic experience," she said. "So had I not had that first experience, I would have been much less prepared, so to speak for the second one. It certainly wasn't easier, because the second loss was much closer to my heart. He was a man who was supposed to be my husband, and I felt like I had lost my husband, quite frankly.
"We had been together for about three years at the point of his death. And we had planned our wedding. He died in October, and we originally had planned to get married in December. You ever really prepare for those sort of things."
Bentle said because her finance's death was in December, she wasn't interested in celebrating the holiday season for about three years.
"I pretty much wanted to stay by myself," she said. "My parents (mother and adopted father) were really instrumental in dragging me out to family events and to do those sort of things. When it comes to survivors, it's really important to do those normal events, especially through the holidays, and to ensure that you continue your life."
How does someone survive the suicide of a loved one?
"Reach out and get help," Bentle said. "There's no reason for people to struggle through being a survivor on their own. There are groups out there that can help survivors."
She said the suicide prevention foundation says to "reach and connect for life."
"If people don't continue those things over and over again, like the holiday seasons, and try to continue those traditions even after a loss, it's very easy to fall into depression again and to kind of wallow in what you're dealing with," Bentle said.
She said there are different types of therapy treatments also, and that therapy saved her life.
"I really urge people to get out there and get the help they need," Bentle said.
She said people have called her for help when they have a friend or family member at risk of suicide.
Bentle said people should talk about suicide and eliminate the taboo of it.
"If you think someone is hurting or someone is susceptible, point blank ask them, 'Are you think of hurting yourself? Or are you thinking about suicide.' And that opens that line of dialogue for them. We know people that have attempted suicide and have survived and one thing they have said is, 'If someone would have said to me today, are you OK? Or you matter. Or are you thinking about hurting yourself?' They would have reconsidered."
Green said it's a good idea for anyone who is depressed to seek treatment whether it is around the holidays or not.
"People go to the doctor sometimes because they don't feel right physically," he said. "We have services, and other providers in Lancaster and Fairfield County and everywhere, have services for people that aren't feeling quite right emotionally. People don't need to have a severe mental illness to get counseling. You can go see a therapist and talk for two or three sessions to get you through a time of stress for the holidays."
For the holidays, Green suggested setting limits and boundaries.
"If people are inviting you to holiday parties, and if you don't feel like it, say no or say that I'm just going to leave early if you're feeling overwhelmed or stressed out," he said.
Green also recommended starting new traditions for those who have lost loved ones or moved away from home.
"Find something that's a new thing that fits who is in your life and what you can do," he said. "Maybe a short trip out of town if you can afford that. Just creating some tradition that is new, especially if you've lost a loved one."
Doing volunteer work is also a way to cope with stress, Green said.
He also stressed that people with suicidal thoughts should seek professional help.
Talking about wanting to die, looking for a way to kill oneself, Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose, Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain, Talking about being a burden to others, Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs, Acting anxious, agitated, or recklessly, Sleeping too little or too much, Withdrawing or feeling isolated, Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge, Displaying extreme mood swings