Describing suicide as "our last taboo," Pastor Pete Nelson welcomed about a dozen community members Monday to a town hall meeting at Carson Valley United Methodist Church.
"One of the difficulties with this subject it that nobody wants to talk about it," Nelson said. "We're here to try to bring it out of its incredibly locked closet."
Participants at Monday's session represented a cross-section of the community: Two students who talked about personal suicide attempts, health professionals, and family members and friends of loved ones lost to suicide.
Jamie Bitetto, 18, and Travis Gonzales, 17, said when they talk to other adolescents about their suicide attempts, the students often are surprised that the teenagers are so willing to discuss the experience.
"After we talk, two or three kids will come up to us and tell us a story about how they attempted suicide, or how someone else's suicide affected them," Gonzales said.
"I attempted suicide when I was 15," said Bitetto, a 2007 Douglas High School graduate. "I was a drug addict and felt like it was the only answer. Obviously, I survived. I gave my heart to Jesus."
Gonzales, who started using drugs in middle school, said his salvation came from a friend who was willing to listen.
"A friend told me how my using was destroying my life," Gonzales said. "He encouraged me to get off drugs."
Gonzales, a Douglas senior, and Bitetto, are both members of Tigers Helping Each Other, a group for high school students.
Douglas counselor Dori Draper said at Monday's session that students are trained as peer counselors to help their classmates with student mentoring, suicide prevention and peer tutoring.
The teenagers represent hope and recovery in the face of grim statistics for Nevada and the United States:
-- Nevada has the second highest rate of suicide in the United States, nearly double the national rate.
-- Suicide is the third leading cause of death for Nevadans 15-24.
-- For every teen who dies by suicide, it is estimated that 100-200 teens have attempted.
-- More people die from suicide than homicide in the United States.
-- Surviving family members not only suffer the grief and trauma of losing a loved one to suicide, but are themselves at higher risk for suicide and emotional problems.
"Based on Nevada's rate of 18-20 suicides per 100,000 residents, we can expect 10 suicides from our community this year," Nelson said. "That's one every five weeks. I think it's higher. That's too much pain out there."
Jodi Wass, facilitator for a Survivors of Suicide group which meets twice a month in Gardnerville, said participating in the group has been one of the most rewarding experiences she's had.
"Last Thursday, there were two new faces," Wass said. "We never know how people find us."
Members of the Douglas County Suicide Prevention Network are co-sponsoring Saturday's Walk in Memory, Walk for Hope to draw attention to suicide prevention and raise funds for programs like the local Survivors of Suicide.
Walks also will be held in Elko, Reno and Las Vegas.
Registration for the walk begins at 8 a.m. Saturday at Heritage Park in Gardnerville with the 2-3 mile walk through Chichester Estates beginning at 8:30 a.m.
Participants are asked to pay $20 registration, but no one will be turned away.
In addition to the walk, information will be available on suicide prevention and recovery.
The Douglas County Faces of Suicide quilt also will be on display.
-- Douglas County residents can participate in Nevada's Walk in Memory, Walk for Hope. Registration 8 a.m. Saturday at Heritage Park in Gardnerville. The Nevada Coalition for Suicide Prevention is hosting various events across the state including the Gardnerville community walk. Individual participants are asked to donate $20, teams $150, although no one will be turned away. The 3-mile walk begins at 8:30 a.m. Information, (775) 684-3475.
-- Survivors of Suicide Support Group, first and third Thursdays 6-7 p.m. at the Partnership of Community Resources, 1528 Highway 395, Suite 100. Family, friends or coworkers of those lost to suicide are invited. Information, 782-8611.
-- Training in suicide prevention is available through the Nevada Office of Suicide Prevention. Information, Misty Vaughn Allen, 684-3475, e-mail mvallen@dhhs. nv.gov.
-- Resource telephone numbers: Crisis call line, (800)-992-5757; Douglas Mental Health, (775)-782-3671; Douglas County Sheriff's Office, 911.
ON THE WEB
Survivors of Suicide
Nevada Office of Suicide Prevention
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention