I’ve been writing professionally for nearly 20 years and this is the hardest column I’ve ever had to write. Originally I planned an end-ofthe-year piece with some snappy one-liners and tongue-incheek observations about local and state issues. Thursday, Dec. 22 at 9:45 a.m. that changed.
I was in the Capitol on my way to one of Gov. Mitch Daniels’ weekly media sessions when my cell phone rang. It was a phone call from my producer telling me that 18-year-old James Dungy, the son of Indianapolis Colts Coach Tony Dungy, had been found dead in his Florida apartment. The likely cause of which was suicide. I left the Capitol and drove back to WXNT to anchor the coverage.
As I was driving, I tried to focus on how to cover this news in a professional, sensitive and thorough manner. However, all I could come back to was that of my own son. A few years ago he went through some major bouts with the leading cause of suicide, depression. I hadn’t noticed it at the time. I thought he was just being moody and a pain. Luckily, his mother thought otherwise and, after taking a much closer look, we found out he was battling depression. I became very worried about him, knowing nearly twothirds of all suicides involve depression. We were fortunate that through medication, hard work and love we saw him through it. But some families have not been so lucky.
The statistics on suicide are shocking. According to the Indiana Suicide Prevention Coalition, there are more than 30,000 suicides per year nationwide, twice the number of homicides. It is the 11th-leading cause of death nationally and the third-leading cause for teen-agers (accidents and homicides are first and second.) A person kills himself in our country every 17 minutes.
Suicide not only ends a life, it devastates families. Ask anyone who has ever had a loved one or friend commit suicide. They spend countless hours asking themselves what they could have done differently or why they didn’t see it coming.
There are warning signs. They include talking about suicide or making a plan to die. There’s a preoccupation with death. Sleeping too little or too late. Someone contemplating suicide will sometimes withdraw from friends or activities or show extreme changes in behavior or personality. Prior attempts at suicide are also a key warning.
If you are a parent, there are four steps you can take:
Learn to recognize the warning signs of suicide.
If you think someone is depressed and suicidal, or is potentially suicidal, approach him or her. Talk openly about depression and suicide and ask directly if this is something the person is considering.
Be available and show support.
Remove as many means of suicide from the home (guns, knives, pills, rope) as possible and assist in getting help or crisis intervention from mental health experts or your family doctor. You can also call 1-800-SUICIDE.
We don’t know what events occurred in the life of James Dungy that led him to take his own life. He came from a good family, with good values and financial means.
What we can take from this tragic event is that, if you are a parent, your best weapon against suicide, the experts say, is open communication and dialogue. You should never miss an opportunity to talk to your teens and just see how things are going in their world. It is easy to make the mistake I did and chalk up mood swings and depression to moody teen-agers. There are times when things are a lot more serious than we grown-ups are willing to acknowledge.
It’s one thing to be a paid observer of human events and write one-liners and occasionally score a moral victory with a pungent point or two. It’s another thing when you have to write about something close to home.
All I can hope is someone reads this, decides a son or daughter is not just being a moody teen-agerm opens the lines of communication and starts a process that ends up saving a life.
Shabazz is the morning show host on WXNT-AM 1430 and an attorney. His column appears monthly. He can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.