Emma Judd and her family were accustomed to dealing with her mom’s “moods.”
“My mom had suffered from depression, and she had a pretty severe eating disorder,” said Judd. “She used to have what we would call ‘her moods,’ and I knew either you don’t come home or you come home and go straight to her room.”
The day before Thanksgiving in 2005, Judd, then a freshman at Tennessee Tech in Cookeville, was taking her time preparing for the trip home.
When her cellphone rang and her mom’s number showed on the caller ID, she picked up the phone expecting a chastisement for being late.
But it wasn’t her mom on the other end, it was her dad.
And he was nearly incoherent.
“The only words he could say to me – his daughter, 18 years old and living two hours away – was ‘your mom’s shot herself.’”
School friends helped Judd pack and find a ride to meet up with the rest of her family at the Harriman hospital where her mom had been taken.
“The nurse came into the room, and she just looked at us and said, ‘She’s dead.’”
Although Judd considered leaving school and moving back in to help her family, her sorority sisters at school talked her into staying and finishing her degree.
Today, Judd is working toward a master’s degree in mental health counseling.
“I don’t want [my mother’s suicide] to be a defining moment in my life, but it’s changed my life – it’s changed who I am forever,” said Judd.
She and others shared their stories with the nearly two-dozen people gathered Tuesday at First United Methodist Church of Lebanon as part of the Never Alone Suicide Awareness and Memorial Event.
“Not only do we need to bring awareness to the people that are suffering from suicidal ideation or those who are attempting suicide, but the families of those people need just as much attention if not more,” said Judd. “There needs to be more education programs and there needs to be more resources for those of us that are left behind because the devastation can be huge.”
In 2011, the latest year for which state-specific figures are available, Tennessee’s age-adjusted suicide rate was 14.6 per 100,000 people, translating into 938 reported suicide deaths. This rate and number are down from previous years but are still above the national average of 12.4 per 100,000 as reported for the year 2010 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Rates among teens and older adults, both groups traditionally at high suicide risk, remain stable. White males aged 35-64 account for the largest share of suicide deaths, and suicide rates are higher for white males across the life span.
“I really believe…that suicide is preventable,” said Scott Ridgeway, executive director of Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network. “That if we really learn the warning signs, we ask those questions – ‘Are you thinking about committing suicide?’ – we might be able to make a difference.”