A couple of months ago, I was selected as one of the twelve Fashion Stars for a Cause to represent the Suicide and Crisis Center of North Texas (SCC). As founder of Model Behaviors, I really take the behaviors aspect seriously because I believe that we are all multidimensional multitaskers. I don’t see why we can’t look good, feel good, have fun, and be deeply committed to our communities all at the same time, and that means delving into hard issues that need our attention. Over the next few months, our job as Fashion Stars is simple: Help raise funds and awareness. So, in order to wrap our minds around suicide and how it affects all of us, let’s look at the national statistics. The New York Times recently reported that the rate of suicide among middle-aged Americans, ages 35 to 64, has escalated dramatically in recent years, experiencing a 30% increase, which is partly attributed to the easy access we have to prescription medication. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are more people dying from suicide each year than from car accidents. For the entire month of February, the month of love and putting others first, Model Behaviors will honor its commitment to the SCC and feature exclusive interviews from different sides of this complex issue. Hopefully, on our journey, we’ll gain some clarity on how to help those who, unbeknownst to most, are living on the margins of society.
Interview: Survivor Jenyce Gush, Director of Volunteer Services at Suicide and Crisis Center of North Texas
With short blonde hair and a kind, caring smile, you’d never know that Jenyce Gush is no stranger to tragedy. Her eyes glisten with wisdom under thick, beautifully arched brows, as she sits calm and collected, thinking earnestly about each question. At the SCC, Gush handles the gritty subject of suicide with poise and dignity, attributes that she admired in Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis when she was a little girl. At age 14, Gush skipped school to catch a glimpse of President John F. Kennedy and the first lady as their motorcade paraded around Dallas. That day will stay with Gush forever. She and her friend made eye contact with the glamorous couple; in fact, she still recalls that perfect pink lipstick that Jackie wore as she waved. Moments later, tragedy ensued. Then twenty some years later, Gush’s brother would complete suicide, and another haunting and unwelcome memory would be impressed in her mind. But today, Gush no longer lives with regret; instead, she lives with purpose and hope.
What made you get involved with the SCC?
I came to the SCC in 1988, after my little brother Jeffrey completed suicide.
How old was Jeffrey when he committed suicide?
He was 28, when he called me that morning. I know now it was to say goodbye. He was really upbeat, and some of the things he said didn’t register, but now that I’m educated about suicide, I realize that he was happy because he had made up his mind.
Had he made attempts before?
No. His problem was that he had struggled with drugs and alcohol. In fact, we had a heated argument earlier that week before he died. I was concerned about his alcohol and drug problem and wanted him to go to rehab. He said things. I said things. Then, at one point, I said, “You’re going to kill yourself,” and he said that it was his life. So that morning before he killed himself, he called and said “I don’t want to fight with you anymore. Life’s going to get better for me, and you’ll never have to worry about me again.” I thought that he was referring to rehab. Before he hung up, he said “Never forget how much I love you, you’re the best sister in the world.” I said, “I’m your only sister.” We laughed, and 12 hours later he ran in front of a car.
How did you know it was a suicide and not an accident?
At first, I thought it was an accident, but at 3:00am, Walnut Street and Boedeker aren’t very busy. And then the police found his cigarettes up and down the street where he had been pacing. According to the two people who were in the car that hit him, he just flew in front of the car. Plus, there was a small note in his apartment that read: Nothing ever works out for me for long – Jeffrey.
How did each member of your family take it?
I felt guilty for the two men that hit him. I even wrote them a letter, telling them not to let this ruin their lives. I always say, the way you are before is how you handle things after. My parents always insisted that it was an accident, no matter what the evidence suggested. My other brother refused to talk about Jeffrey at all.
Grief is a journey. What was this road like for you?
For me, I had to have something. That’s why coming to the SCC was so lifesaving. At first, I didn’t even tell my friends that it was suicide. I didn’t want them to judge Jeffrey and ask questions that I didn’t have answers for. In the beginning, I convinced myself that someone had robbed him and stole his ID, and that’s who was in the morgue. I bounced between anger and denial. Why would Jeffrey do this? What was so awful that he wanted to die? I even drove to Walnut and Boedeker, to stand and walk back and forth like he did.
Did it help?
No. And for years, I avoided that place.
How did your family say good-bye, did you have a memorial?
No, my family didn’t want to. I took his ashes to the top of Reunion, and let him go in the wind. Peace finally came for me when I accepted that I would never know why Jeffrey chose suicide and that was ok.
Do you think someone can get real closure when a loved one commits suicide?
I think the person learns to live with it and then, finds peace. They have to quit questioning things and beating themselves up. I talk with survivors every day, and some struggle for years.
Do you still question yourself?
Not anymore. I did for a long time.
What helped you to stop?
Time and getting the support that I needed, but also, believing that we all have free will.
When did you realize that you were healing?
When I forgot his anniversary and realized that it was OK. It’s not so important to remember when he died, but rather, that I had him for 28 years.
Did your brother suffer from mental illness?
Are previous attempts common before someone completes suicide?
Of the survivors that I talk to each week, some of them say that there were previous attempts. The majority say that there were none.
What advice would you give someone whose friend is borderline suicidal or deeply depressed?
Be willing to listen. Ask them if they are thinking about suicide. Let them know how much they mean to you and how much you would miss them if they weren’t here. Ask them what it would take to help them want to live. When we get suicidal people on our crisis line, we tell them that they can kill themselves at anytime, but right now they’re still on the fence, wanting to live or wanting to die. So, talk to the part of them that still wants to live.
In my opinion, suicide is not the root of an issue; it’s the result. Are there other problems that could be considered the root of this (like domestic violence)?
It’s not just one thing; it’s an accumulation.
What are the warning signs?
When you’re living it, you don’t clue in on things. Lack of sleep, too much sleep, not eating enough, eating too much, isolation, loss of interest in things once enjoyed, can all be signs. Looking back, with Jeffrey, when he said, “you’ll never have to worry about me again”… if I had a do-over, I would’ve asked, “What has changed? What does that mean?”
Are there other non-traditional methods of suicide that we should be aware of?
For some time it was helium, death by cop, and an overdose by mixing drugs to make it look accidental.
Who does the SCC help?
Our crisis line helps people in crisis, especially those who feel suicidal or have attempted, and our center also provides support in the aftermath of suicide.
Is the SCC able to help everyone?
I think for callers to have someone to listen and be able to talk about what they are going through can help them find relief. After talking to a caller, we may offer other resources. Like victims of domestic violence, we might refer to Family Place or Genesis. If they want therapy, we might direct them to a therapist. If it’s drug or alcohol abuse, we refer them to a place like Dallas Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse. If someone calls and wants therapy for children after a tragedy, we send them to Journey of Hope.
How do meetings for survivors at the SCC help them?
They’re peer led by two trained volunteers. One is a survivor. The purpose is for the survivor to share their feelings with others who are going through the same grief to find hope that there can be life after a suicide.
How can people get involved with the SCC?
We’re volunteer-based. They can volunteer on the crisis line, which requires a comprehensive ten-week training program. We have other volunteer opportunities, but we require that they are crisis-line trained first.
Where does the funding go?
To our programs, like our latest one, Teens Can Survive. It also goes to pay our small staff and operating expenses.
What is Teens Can Survive?
It’s a computer program that determines whether a teen is depressed or suicidal. It was developed by Columbia University, and it’s our goal to get it into all of the local high schools. The teen program also has an educational component for kids, parents, and teachers.
Is there anything you would like to add?
There’s still a lot of stigma around suicide. People hesitate to speak about it, and yet, it’s important to get help. If you try to ignore it, it will find its way out in one form or another. Our help is free. Reach out, and talk to somebody.
To get more information about suicide in our community or to learn how you can get involved and make a difference, click here.