The Hidden Problem; Suicide--Part 2

Posted by Bryan Henry  -  bio | email

MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - If there's ever been a person completely determined to take his own life,  Steve Puckett of Montgomery is that man. "6 times," said Puckett.

Puckett says on six occasions he took pills…lots of pills…just hoping they would end it all.

At the time, he was far different from years before growing up in a stable family, excelling in athletics, good enough to become a starting linebacker for the University of Tennessee in the mid-60s.

And things continued to go well…into the 90's.

"I had a successful 30 year career in insurance," Puckett said.

So successful, in fact, Steve Puckett was earning around a half million dollars a year and living in a half-million dollar house.

"I was leaning towards the material side of things," he said.

That was the beginning.. followed by a slow decline into a major depression.

Doctors diagnosed him as being bi-polar. His thoughts then turned to suicide.

"I thought about it a lot, one day I decided I was going to to do it," Puckett said.

A decision made with no regard for what it would do to his family.

"Finally, my wife wanted me to leave. She didn't want my daughter to come home and find me dead. I wasn't dealing with reality," said Puckett.

Puckett says by then, he was broke, divorced, starting over.

That's when he finally faced the challenge of admitting for - the first time.. that he had a problem.

Birmingham counselor Dr. Judith Harrington shows us how thoughts of suicide can make desperate people do desperate things.

The razors and knives, given to her by a client who in a moment of clarity.. decided to fight her urgings and continue getting help.

Another client handed over a loaded pistol so he wouldn't be tempted.

"It was kind of scary. It is a myth.. once suicidal always suicidal. Prevention is the key. All that can help suicidal tendencies be a thing of the past," said Dr. Harrington.

"I'll miss him for the rest of my life," said Sue Matthews.

Sue Matthews knows from personal experience what the pain is like when a loved one dies by his own hand. She lost her only son Patrick, and endured the agonizing ride of emotions from anger to utter helplessness.

"I suffered anger and guilt. I felt like it was my fault," said Matthews.

Even though Patrick is no longer here his mom will always remember him, not just with memories and photographs but this garden he helped plant at his mother's home in Birmingham.

"The dogwood over there.  That's the first tree we planted.  I think of Patrick," she said.

There's really no way to calculate the loss of a loved one to suicide in terms of dollars and cents. We do know so many people are affected beyond the immediate family.

"Some studies show that up to 28 people are directly impacted. That's time away from work, more complicated bereavement," said Dr. Harrington.

Time and perspective have given Matthews a chance to come to terms with her son being gone. It's been nearly 4 years now.

"Every time I walked out here I cried but now I have better memories of him," said Matthews.

"I'm doing great today," Puckett said.

Steve Puckett feels he's turned the corner, too, thanks to his medication and intense therapy. Today, Puckett is the Executive Director for WINGS, an advocacy group for people suffering with mental illness.

A word of warning from a man who's been there.

"Don't wait when you lose objectivity."

Living life to the fullest, Steve Puckett is living proof that help is available and there is hope, and that tomorrow is another day, another chance to begin anew.

Grief counselors say 90 percent of all people who die by suicide have a psychiatric disorder at the time of their death.  It is typically a bi-polar disorder.  It's no different, they say, than someone dying from heart disease or cancer.

One final footnote.

Statistics show that 4 men succeed in taking their lives to every one woman.

Call the hotline number at 1-800-SUICIDE if you're in a crisis or if you know of someone who needs help.

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