James Cea was in pain.
He was in physical pain from the arthritis he had in his spine, and from years of auto body work. He was in emotional and spiritual pain from his recent relapse with alcohol after being sober for six years.
He had tried to live with the pain. Cea would rarely tell the people closest to him that he was suffering.
On a cold November day, he finally reached his breaking point. He took a gun, put it to the roof of his mouth and pulled the trigger.
“He was always a really great guy,” said his daughter, Dana Cea. “He supported me and my sister in everything that we did. He never felt that there was anything that could hold us back. He liked fishing and hunting. He ran an auto body shop, and he just helped out a lot of people.”
Dana stops talking, and looks off in the distance. Her chin starts to quiver and her eyes well up with tears. She tries to collect herself, and wipes the tears away.
“That’s who he was,” she said. “He was just giving and supportive. He was the guy you went to, no matter what the problem was.”
Suicide is the fourth-leading cause of death in the United States for people between the ages of 18 and 65, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. More people will die by suicide each year than from homicide, AIDS or drunken driving. Suicide is the 10th-leading cause of death in the U.S.
Tennessee had 932 cases of suicide in 2011. That number has moved up slightly from 2010, but the number was still more than 900 in 2010.
“That is over 900 lives per year that we know about,” said Harold Leonard, regional chairman for Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network and a licensed professional counselor. “There are probably closer to 1,000 people who die by suicide every year, but some cases are ruled accidents or are suspicious but never reported.”
On Tuesday a suicide prevention conference will be held at Boones Creek Christian Church, 305 Christian Church Road, Gray. The conference will go from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., and will feature speakers discussing various topics, such as being a suicide survivor.
The conference comes right before suicide awareness month in September. This will be the second conference put on by the network. A conference was held in March, and was so successful Leonard decided to put on another one to raise awareness.
“The Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network works to come up with events to educate the public,” Leonard said. “We are wanting to address a variety of topics.”
Suicide touches all corners of all age groups. Women are more likely than men to attempt suicide, but men are more likely to die by suicide. The highest rate among population is elderly males while the highest number of suicides is middle age men. There has also been a recent spike in veterans committing suicide, Leonard said.
When someone dies by suicide, there are people left behind. Those people usually have questions, but the person they want to ask is no longer around to answer them. That can lead to hardship for the survivors.
“Someone who has lost someone to suicide has a high risk of committing suicide themselves,” Leonard said. “They usually question what they could have done differently.”
Dana is a member of the local suicide survivors group, which meets the fourth Monday of every month at Boones Creek Christian Church. She found her way to the group after her father’s funeral. During his funeral, she saw an outpouring of support for her and her family, and that led her to join the survivors group.
“I feel like prevention is important, but sometimes the survivors get left,” she said. “Unfortunately in this area, it’s not something survivors feel comfortable talking about. That’s my main goal is to make it more comfortable, and for people to realize they are not alone.”
There are warning signs that are typically associated with suicide. If a person is threatening or talking about suicide, writing about suicide, if a person is showing rage or talking about revenge, feelings of hopelessness, alcohol and drug use, depression, if a person is talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain, extreme mood swings, withdrawing from family and giving away things that have meaning to them could all be warning signs, Leonard said.
The hard part is noticing these signs. People typically think the person may be having a bad day or that it is a phase that will pass with time. The best way to find out if people are thinking about suicide is to ask.
“Ask the hard question,” Leonard said. “Ask if they are thinking about suicide. People are usually afraid to ask because they think they might put the idea in the person’s head.”
For Dana, she is still coping with the loss of her father. Her last conversation with Cea was two weeks before he died, and he was calling to say he was proud of her and her sister. She looks back on that conversation and wonders what could have been.
“You do wonder, would that have made a difference if he would have said something to me,” she said. “Could I have said the right thing to him? Would he still be around? I don’t know. You can’t answer those questions either, unfortunately ... I think looking back, a lot of us can see signs now that we may have not seen before.”
Most people who die by suicide have a mental illness at the time of their death. Leonard and Dana both see suicide as the final symptom of a mental disease. Untreated depression is the number one cause of suicide, Leonard said.
“It’s more common than you realize,” Leonard said. “It’s also preventable.”
There is help if you or someone you know might be suicidal. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or call 211 for local help. If you are a survivor of suicide and are interested in attending the group or finding out more information, you can find it on facebook at www.facebook.com/SOStricities.