By Susan G. Ellis
It was not a typical day on the job for Shelby Rowe, age 42, of New York. She stood before 30 journalists and experts at the Poynter Institute of Media Studies in St. Petersburg, Florida, at a conference about Covering Suicide and Mental Health. Normally, she talks about others. On October 21, she talked about herself.
She almost died by suicide, twice.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people ages 15 – 24 years of age according to the organization SAVE, the Suicide Awareness Voices of Education. Suicide among college age students occurred at the rate of about 11.1 people per 100,000 in 2012 according to Dan Reidenberg of SAVE. These are preventable deaths.
Shelby works in suicide prevention as the manager of education and prevention programs at the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention. She wrote her state’s suicide prevention plan. She served as director of a 24/7 crisis hotline. In 2008, she was teaching other professionals, teachers, clinicians, health educators, and others in the community about suicide prevention. She was an expert in the field.
Life threw her some curve balls.
When Shelby was 19 years of age, she got married. Her husband was killed. She got married again. In 2010 she was going through a divorce. She had three sons. She felt she could not live the way she was living anymore. She had vulnerabilities from her childhood, PTSD as a victim of abuse and mental illness in the family. She was gripped by the same abyss of hopelessness as those she seeks to help.
Shelby hit a crisis point. Thanksgiving is her favorite holiday. In 2010, she didn’t care. She gave up. She attempted suicide. She survived.
Shelby says how one attempts suicide is not what matters. Rather, her story is about the lessons she learned. Shelby realized she had to change her life. She created her own long-term rehabilitation facility for the “mere cost of a mortgage.” She bought a farm. She took in horses and started a new plan. She quit her job. She converted her farm to a haven for survivor veterans with PTSD who had attempted suicide. She called it the Almost Home Ranch. Her horse was her therapist.
Shelby was happy. She wasn’t afraid to fail anymore. “When you lose everything you ever thought you needed, and survive, it’s amazing the courage you have to try new things.”
After 18 months, she could not meet the bills for Almost Home Ranch and had to let go of the farm. She looked for new possibilities. She spent two years in Arkansas with the Statewide Injury Prevention Program at Arkansas Children’s Hospital. Recently, she moved to New York City to join the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention as the Manager of Education and Prevention Programs.
Shelby’s story is one of hope. She realized, “I needed time and space to heal.” She read about mental health and looked to spirituality. She saw “strength and beauty in [her] brokenness.” She focused on what matters in her life. She sees a future.
Warning signs that someone is considering suicide include talk of “killing themselves, having no reason to live, being a burden to others, feeling trapped, and unbearable pain” according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. If someone shows an increase in drug and alcohol use, sleeping, reckless behavior, withdrawal, isolation, talking or seeking ways of killing themselves, saying good bye, giving away things, or aggression, they may be at risk.
If you or someone you know shows warning signs, there is help! You can call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can go to a psychiatric hospital, hospital emergency room, urgent care clinic, or call 911.
Shelby tells her story to help others. She says her attempts do not define her. They are not who she is. They were acts in a dark moment in time. Now she feels healthy and strong. “That’s the flip-side of post-traumatic stress – post traumatic growth!” She knows living is hard work, but she decided life is worth it!
Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
120 Wall Street, 29th Floor
New York, New York 10005
© 2014 Susan G. Ellis, Ph.D., All Rights Reserved