She committed suicide on her daughter’s 13th birthday.
Cynthia Azari stood on a stage at Oxnard College in front of nearly 400 people on Wednesday, explaining that her younger sister, Gayle, ended her life about 25 years ago in Austin, Texas.
She shot herself in the head, leaving Azari to raise her daughters.
And when Azari, president of Oxnard College, reflects on this, she wonders how her sister reached such depths.
“If I had known, if I had seen the signs, maybe I could have helped,” she said Wednesday at a suicide prevention forum hosted by Ventura County Behavioral Health and Oxnard. Middle School.
The annual forum, “Help & Hope”, filled the school’s performing arts building. The speakers who opened the program did not mention Anthony Bourdain or Kate Spade or other celebrities who committed suicide in the past year.
Instead, they focused on the numbers, with some of them projected onto a giant screen:
- 41 people in Ventura County died by suicide in the first six months of the year.
- 80% of them were men.
- 25% were seniors.
“I feel like people think it’s a problem elsewhere,” said Sevet Johnson, Ventura County’s director of behavioral health. “It’s not.”
Emergency counselors stood in the aisles in case anyone wanted to talk. In a cluster of booths outside the center, groups ranging from a support group for young adult suicide survivors to Vista del Mar Psychiatric Hospital answered questions and handed out information.
Inside, speakers repeated phrases to make sure they were hitting home.
“Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary situation,” Johnson said.
Chris Hayes was an all-lecturer at Washington State University who came from the San Bernardino projects. A seventh-round pick, he lasted eight years in the National Football League as a defensive back. During a keynote speech, he showed off the Super Bowl ring he won with the Green Bay Packers in January 1997.
Hayes talked about football, poverty and overcoming obstacles like being kicked out of school. But he also talked about the degenerative brain disease called CTE and linked to concussions and other trauma.
Hall of Fame linebacker Junior Seau took his own life in 2012 and was later diagnosed with CTE. Jason Hairston, a former linebacker at UC Davis who went on a tryout with the San Francisco 49ers, died by suicide in September at the age of 47. He worried about diminishing his cognitive abilities, according to articles in The Mercury News.
Hayes, wearing meditation beads on his wrist, cited others who suffer from mental illness or cannot cope after their football careers end. He focused on conversations where he had to talk to his friends and former teammates “from the rim”.
“It happens all the time,” he said, emphasizing the responsibility people have to listen to others, refer them to mental health counselors and just be available.
“All of you here today, someone needs you,” he said.
The opening speech received a standing ovation. It was followed by workshops including a session on senior suicide.
Of Ventura County’s 41 suicides in the first six months of 2018, 11 were among people age 65 and older. Part of the rise can be attributed to the growing number of older people in the so-called money tsunami.
Other factors include people who lose their sense of purpose after the death of a spouse or who fear being a burden due to physical issues, said Monique Knowlin, deputy director of the Ventura County Agency on aging.
Perhaps the biggest problem is isolation, she said.
“I had an elderly person say to me, ‘Why do I even have a phone? The only people who call me are the doctors,” she said.
Another workshop focused on risk factors and precautions that can make suicide more difficult, such as carbon monoxide sensors in cars and medicine blisters that force people to pop pills one at a time. .
The workshops and stands aimed to spread the message.
The importance of this dialogue prompted Azari to talk about his sister. She did it because, unfortunately, the story is not that rare.
“I wanted people to know that so many families are going through this,” she said. “We have to make sure people have resources.”
- Ventura County Suicide Hotline: 1-877-727-4747
- Ventura County Crisis Team: 1-866-998-2243
- The Trover Project Lifeline: 1 866 488-7386
- Teen Line: Text “TEEN” to 839863 or call 1-800-852-8336
- Senior Helpline: 1-800-235-9980
- Daily well-being: http://www.wellnesseveryday.org
- American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: https://afsp.org