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Preventing Suicides – Why I Do What I Do at the Injury Center

Categories: CDC Injury Center, Violence Prevention

 

Photo of Deb Karch, PhD

Deb Karch, PhD

Guest blogger: Deb Karch, PhD

I wrote my first suicide note when I was 13 years old. I hid it and the many more that followed in my stamp collection, books or other secret hideaways, all places I knew my mom would never look.  For the next 15 years, each time I packed up my belongings for another move, I would find another one I had forgotten about. I would read each one with dismay.  I learned the hard way that an overdose only resulted in having to drink a thick black charcoal concoction with one ankle strapped to a bed frame to keep me from taking off.  Running the car in the garage took far too long and two rounds of Russian roulette proved me to be a very lucky woman.  

By my late 20’s, I’d racked up a number of inpatient psychiatric stays and had gone through more than a couple psychiatrists.  All were missed opportunities for a correct mental health diagnosis, finally culminating in a psychologist telling me “I was too smart to be doing all this.” That was it. I swallowed a lethal dose of prescription medication and waited for the inevitable.  A friend found me under a tree, unconscious.  I was 42 years old.     

A few months later I met the psychiatrist who saved my life.  After one session, he properly diagnosed me with rapid cycling Type 1 bipolar disorder. The proper combination of medications forever changed my life.  Only a few weeks later I was driving down the interstate in a state of peace I had never experienced before. It occurred to me ‘This is what regular people feel like.’  I smiled to myself and began the journey of recovery and learning how to really live. I know I am not alone, that there are many others out there just like me. 

This is why I do what I do.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death among Americans. But suicide deaths are only part of the problem. Like me, more people survive suicide attempts than actually die. No one needs to feel the pain I did – and no family ever needs to lose a loved one to suicide. My role at CDC is to collect and analyze surveillance data on violent death, including suicide.  One way I do this is with the National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS).  NVDRS captures death certificate, coroner/medical examiner and law enforcement report information on all violent deaths in 18 US states, and combines them in a single data file. NVDRS also includes information on demographics, weapons, toxicology, victim-suspect relationships, precipitating circumstances or risk factors, and a narrative to better understand the violent death incident.  Researchers can then use this information to help inform prevention efforts.

NVDRS is one of many things CDC’s Injury Center is doing to prevent injuries and deaths caused by violence, including suicide. You can learn more about all of our work by visiting www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/suicide.

And if you or someone you know is in emotional distress or having a suicidal crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also visit them online: www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

Life is worth living.

Dr. Karch is Surveillance Team Lead, Etiology and Surveillance Branch, Division of Violence Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, CDC, Atlanta, GA.  She is the lead science officer for the National Violent Death Reporting System (NVDRS) and is working on projects linking NVDRS data to the Department of Defense Suicide Event Reports, state Adult Protective Services data, and National Center for Child Death Review records. In addition to NVDRS, her primary area of interest is in preventing elder suicide and elder abuse and neglect.  Dr. Karch received her Ph.D. in 1994 in Social Science from Texas Woman’s University and has published numerous manuscripts on surveillance and violent death prevention.  Prior to coming to CDC, Dr. Karch was a medico-legal death investigator at the state of New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator. 

Public Comments

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this blog is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

  1. May 10, 2012 at 1:19 pm ET  -   Julie

    What a wonderful story of hope. Thank you for sharing. It is stories like yours that inspires me to do suicide prevention work.

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  2. May 11, 2012 at 5:37 pm ET  -   Kay

    Deb,
    You are amazing. You went through all that so you could do your job now. I thought it was very interesting. Bless you.
    Kay

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  3. May 21, 2012 at 9:54 pm ET  -   Melinda

    Thank you for sharing Deb. Your story, your survival and your commitment to prevention of suicide for others is inspiring.

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  4. October 3, 2012 at 5:23 am ET  -   paramedics

    Deb, this is wonderful story is so helpful. I like it so much, and thanks for sharing this.

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  5. October 17, 2012 at 6:50 pm ET  -   Paulene Macy

    Dear Ms Deb Karch, PhD, While I delight in your story of success, it does not serve the millions of us who do not even have access to the type of care that you received. And while rapid cycling Bipolar Type 1 is devastating, you were fortunate there was treatment that was effective. For those who have comorbid psychiatric diagnosis there is rarely such a magical treatment. A person who is disabled due to severe mental illness will eventually qualify for Medicare after 2 years and then loose $100.00 a month from their monthly stipend. To further the insult, this same person must be able to deliver 20% of payment, usually up front, and does not have medication coverage if they happen to have had a good career as the result of perseverance and do not qualify for state assistance. I appreciate your story of victory and dedication, however, it concerns me that it doesn’t begin to touch the large number of person’s who have comorbid conditions and are financially incapable for recieving the care you did with the results you did.

    And just because I can not resist my soap box, if said person has a brain scan that says they have changes in their brain that indicate they have had a CVA or Alzheimers, they will receive a medical diagnosis and a great deal of services. If a scan shows that brain structures are changed in the majorly depressed, in the person with PTSD they are labeled mentally ill and it is legal to restrain them, humiliate them before the public, shut them in a room without access to a call light in an ER indefinitely, and otherwise prove their inequality. Both suffer mood changes, even personality changes, both can be a risk to themselves, but one is a medical diagnosis and the other a head case, “mental illness”. Until people like yourself, the CDC, the National Health Organization, begin to lead the change and allow our diagnosis to be equal in significance and also be medical diagnosis and not on a separate axis, we will continue to be mistreated, undertreated, and dead.

    Thank you for your time and hard work.

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  6. November 12, 2012 at 3:45 pm ET  -   Tom

    Deb,

    I am sorry I didn’t see any signs thirty years ago.

    Maybe my ‘picking on you’ contributed; maybe not. I know now it couldn’t have helped. My alcoholism hindered my vision to your and many of our classmate’s problems.

    I have lost two two high school friends to suicide.

    A friend’s daughter committed suicide.

    I remember the laughs we shared and try not to dwell on their deaths. I cannot replace them nor my other friends and service buddies who have died from cancer, auto accident, or combat.

    If you ever need an ear or a shoulder to lean on.

    Tom,
    a friend of Bill

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