Suicides: more common than murder
10th leading cause of death for adults, 3rd for young adults
Seventeen-year-old Tricia Martin may be Pleasanton's latest casualty in an ongoing trend that claims nearly 34,000 people every year in the United States.
Martin, a senior at Village High School, was one of two people found dead in a Newark motel on Sept. 14, in what police describe as a double suicide or murder-suicide. She was with her boyfriend, a young man from Livermore.
At Martin's service Sept. 22, five of her friends said a few words, and none of them made it through without crying. All had to stop at least momentarily.
"You could just feel how much they were hurting," said a friend of the family. "You wanted to do something, anything, to help them, and there's just nothing you can do."
Martin's death is not an isolated case. Friends and family members were shocked earlier this year when Roy Dronkers, a well-known, well-respected Realtor took his own life, although Dronkers had battled for years with depression.
While Dronkers might have felt alone -- those who survive a suicide attempt often say they do -- he was not. One in 10 Americans suffer from depression, one of the leading causes of suicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which says suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the country. A new study published in the American Journal of Public Health claims suicides now claim more people than car crashes.
In Pleasanton, 19 people killed themselves between January 2010 and September of this year -- four in 2010, seven in 2011, and at least eight so far this year. Alameda County shows 380 people died by their own hand during that time: 158 in 2010, 139 in 2011, and 83 through August, although the coroner's office notes that some deaths are still under investigation.
Danville has recorded six deaths over the same time: two in 2010, three in 2011, and one so far this year, while San Ramon shows two suicides in 2010, five in 2011 and none so far this year. In Contra Costa County there have been 301 suicides during the same period, with 118 in 2010, 116 in 2011, and 76 so far this year.
Local suicides seem to be taking place more in public. In recent months, one person hanged himself at a public parking lot in Danville, and a Pleasanton man hanged himself at Pleasanton Ridge. Two people leapt to their death in separate incidents at the two local BART stations. A Danville woman drove her car into a ravine on Mount Diablo, and, in a particularly tragic incident, Pleasanton resident Amy Burton Freeman fatally shot herself after killing her 13-year-old daughter, Ainslee.
Beyond that, a Fremont man leaped onto Interstate 580 late last year. A San Ramon man shot himself in the head during a traffic stop last November. A 2007 Amador Valley graduate shot himself after killing his ex-girlfriend, a 2006 Amador Valley grad, in a San Diego murder-suicide in December 2011. One person, whose sex was not released, committed suicide in April 2011 in the creek bed that runs through downtown.
Earlier this month, an inmate at the Santa Rita Jail in Dublin committed suicide on by hanging himself in his cell, and late last year, a man in custody after running off with a local high school girl tried to kill himself by jumping off the top tier of the jail, leaving him partially paralyzed.
At least four other teens have died from suicide in recent years.
An Amador Valley High freshman jumped in front of a train in April 2010. A 13-year-old attending Opportunity Middle School shot himself in April 2011. A San Ramon Valley High School sophomore jumped from the Golden Gate Bridge in May 2011. A middle school girl from Diablo Vista Middle School killed herself in 2008, apparently despondent over poor math scores.
The CDC reports suicide is the third-leading cause of death of people 15 to 24 and the fourth leading cause of death for children between the ages of 10 and 14.
Those are just the ones that made the news. The Pleasanton Weekly, as is the case with most publications, does not cover suicides unless they occur in public places, the victims are public figures, or when the loss affects a great number of people, such as when a teen dies and classmates, teachers, teammates and others are mourning.
"By reporting these stories we are able to show how prevalent suicide is. Perhaps making community members aware will bring about discussion, and perhaps discussion will bring about help for people who are struggling with the idea, have a loved one struggling with the idea, or have lost someone to suicide," said Gina Allen, publisher of the Pleasanton Weekly. "We can't pretend suicide is not an issue."
Suicide has become such a big issue nationwide that the Obama administration this month, National Suicide Prevention Month, announced a major initiative to help prevent suicides, especially among veterans, who commit suicide at a higher rate than civilians. A New York Times article in June said veteran suicides had risen 18% between 2011 and 2012. The Obama plan will boost staff at the national crisis hotline (800-273-855) for both civilians and members of the military and provide $55.6 million for state and local programs.
Local police organizations, including the Pleasanton Police Department, are also receiving crisis intervention training to teach officers how to better interact with people threatening suicide or who are mentally ill. Dronker's death inspired his brother and sister-in-law, Ron and Brenda Dronkers, to create the "I am Here" foundation, "to provide a safe, no judgmental website that will provide online resources" and to eventually have a 24-hour hotline and online chat room "for those who need a friendly, confidential ear."