NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) — A River Parishes woman who attempted suicide as a teenager has made it her mission to save others.
Six years ago, Emma Benoit was a competitive cheerleader from a loving home, a 16-year-old who on the outside seemed to have it all.
“I was really struggling to manage my life,” says Benoit. “I felt so much pressure for myself to have her together.”
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says suicide kills 18 young people every day in the United States
For every death, there are 27 self-reported suicide attempts and 275 people who have seriously considered suicide, according to the CDC.
“I grew up thinking I should be pretty all the time and funny all the time and bubbly because that’s where I get my validation,” Benoit says.
She’s living proof that you don’t know what you have until it’s almost gone.
“I was really desperate and tried to kill myself,” she explains. “I shot myself in the chest. I injured my spinal cord.
Fortunately, Emma survived.
“I suffered some pretty serious injuries from the attempt and immediately after pulling the trigger I regretted my decision,” she says.
For the next three years, Emma worked with physiotherapists to be able to walk again.
Now she travels the country, mostly in a wheelchair, raising awareness of the factors leading to suicide and how to deal with them.
“The reality is that there is absolutely help out there,” says Benoit. “Resources and people willing and ready to listen and support you through what you are going through.”
New Orleans City Councilman Joe Giarrusso and St. Tammany Parish Coroner Dr. Charles Preston join tens of thousands of Americans each year who have lost loved ones who have decided to suicide.
“My grandfather was tough and brave,” says Giarrusso. “But my father was much softer.”
“My two brothers were incredibly smart people,” says Dr. Preston. “We have to eliminate shame and eliminate guilt.”
Between 2000 and 2018, the country’s suicide rate increased by 36% before plummeting in 2019 and 2020. Today, suicide rates are on the rise again. In 2021, 47,646 Americans committed suicide.
Experts say the recent rise in suicides may be due to the isolation caused by the pandemic.
“My older brother suffered from chronic paranoid schizophrenia,” says Dr. Preston. “He was on treatment. Very well controlled. Knows great success. Vice President of a huge electronic company.
Despite his success, Preston’s 47-year-old brother Will foundered because he wanted to quit antidepressants.
Dr. Preston lost not one, but two brothers to suicide. In addition to Will, Dr. Preston’s 45-year-old brother Steve, a lawyer, also committed suicide due to complications from painkillers.
Now Dr. Preston has made it his mission to try to prevent others from taking their own lives by advocating for early intervention.
“What’s happening now is they’re going to the ER, committing, going to the psychiatric hospital, starting the meds again, getting discharged multiple times, deteriorating, becoming non-compliant,” says Dr Preston . “Rinse and repeat. Rinse and repeat.
Dr. Preston administers 500 engagements a year. For families seeking out-of-home care for loved ones in distress, he says early managed care is key.
“The first piece of advice is don’t stop taking your meds, because that’s what’s creating the crisis,” says Dr. Preston.
Giarrusso’s father was a lawyer and mediator, good at verbal communication, which he said made it much harder to find out what was really going on.
Experts say the suicide rate is four times higher among men than among women because men are generally less likely to be open about mental distress.
“I think a lot of times we’re afraid to ask someone ‘how are you? How are you?’ said Giarrusso.
The councilman says there were no warning signs, just “maybe” signs, like the missing church and not being so meticulous about keeping your car clean.
“I know people want to look and say there must be something,” Giarrusso says. “It was probably depression. And it’s getting to a point where it’s just too much.
Benoit says she tried hard to mask any emotion that might make her seem like she was struggling.
Survivors urge you to seek outside help if you feel distressed or suspect it is in someone close to you.
With the introduction of 988, a national suicide prevention hotline, resources are more available than ever.
Four parishes on the North Shore have come together to offer free online therapy. Well Connected Northshore offers two therapy sessions per month with unlimited text messaging for 90 days to help with post-hurricane mental trauma.
The Florida Parishes Human Services Authority offers gun locks and therapy to address more than 50% of suicides that occur through self-inflicted gunshot wounds.
Don Mueller lost his 16-year-old son, Elliott, to suicide just four months ago. Elliott has Asperger’s Syndrome and has been in and out of four mental health facilities in his senior year.
“When you’re in the thick of it, it’s hard to go looking for resources,” says Mueller. “We were just trying to keep our son alive.”
Mueller says he wishes he had turned to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) before it was too late and urges other parents to fully investigate the services available.
“If an individual shows signs of suicide,” says Nick Richard of NAMI. “The best thing you can do is open the door and ask if they need help.”
The CDC says suicide is the second leading cause of death among children ages 10 to 14.
Benoit is now part of a program called Hope Squad which runs suicide prevention programs in schools.
If you or someone you know is in distress and you fear for their safety, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline by dialing 988.
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