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Families try to turn tragedy into awareness for others

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Suicide... The Silent Killer (First in a series)

By Kayla Swanson

 Missy Gousha, a Mount Washington resident and business owner, said her son, Michael, was a jokester.

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“He was very fun loving,” she said.

Donna Neblett, another Mount Washington resident, said her daughter, Rachael, wanted to be a brain surgeon so she could uncover the cause of Alzheimer’s, a disease that affected her grandfather.

Donna and Missy, while not related, are a part of the same story. They are parents who have lost children to death by suicide.

It’s a story that’s surprising, but not uncommon.

According to the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, suicide is the leading cause of death for Kentuckians ages 15 to 34.

In addition, the American Association of Suicidology (AAS) reported that there were 58 deaths by suicide in 2010 by individuals ages 15 to 24 in Kentucky.

Nationally, the AAS reported an average of one person between the ages of 15 and 24 killed themselves every hour and 54 minutes in 2010.

Bullitt County is no stranger to these statistics, as several teens and young adults have died by suicide over the past several years, including Michael and Rachael. 

Despite the losses, both families have moved forward with their lives while working to honor their children by advocating for suicide awareness and prevention.

Since her son’s death in July 2005, Gousha became a board member for the Louisville Metro chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).

The chapter, which formed in 2008, holds fundraisers and distributes information about the signs of suicide and methods of prevention.

For seven years Gousha has coordinated an annual roadblock in Mount Washington, raising awareness about suicide and distributing information on the AFSP’s Out of Darkness Walk.

“People need to know suicide is out there,” Gousha said.

This year’s roadblock is on Saturday, Oct. 5 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the intersection of North Bardstown Road and Highway 44 East.

In addition to the annual roadblock and walk, the group hands out prevention information at the state fair, hosts an annual Survivor’s Day in November and holds other events and fundraising projects throughout the year.

Rachael’s parents, Donna and Mark, formed Make A Difference for Kids after her death in October 2006. It is a non-profit organization committed to raising awareness about suicide and cyber-bullying.

The organization brings two programs, Choices and Say No To Bullying, to schools.

Choices, Donna said, is a play that tells Rachael’s story. It follows Hannah, a girl who is cyber-bullied, to the point where she wants to take her own life and then stops to give the audience a chance to discuss Hannah’s choices.

“It’s a great program,” Donna said. “Schools ask us to come back.”

Say No To Bullying is a program where Mark tells Rachael’s story and discusses Internet safety. Students are given bracelets with “Say No To Bullying” on one side and a suicide prevention hotline number on the other side.

Donna said Make a Difference for Kids helped to pass four Kentucky state laws related to cyber-bullying and suicide prevention, one of which requires teachers to take two hours of suicide prevention training.

Both Donna and Gousha said more education about suicide and prevention is needed.

"When kids are bullied, they use it for an escape to get away from the problem, but they don’t realize once you’re gone, you’re gone,” Donna said. “There’s no coming back.

“The more they’re educated, the more they’ll realize there’s other alternatives for help.”

Donna said children needed to go beyond a parent-child relationship and work toward open dialogues with their parents about what’s going on in their lives. While friends can leave children in their time of need, parents won’t, she added.

“Rachael and I were so close,” Donna said. “I guess it was the way I raised her.”

If people are more aware of suicide, Gousha said it could stop people from taking their own lives.

“When people think of suicide, they think it will never happen to them,” she said. “It doesn’t discriminate; it can happen in any household.”

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Read part two of this series here.

Read part three here.

Read part four here.

Read part five here.

Read part six here.

Read part seven here.