Kudos to Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane for talking publicly about something few of us want to discuss — suicide.
On average, a suicide occurs every 15 minutes somewhere in the United States. But one wouldn't know that by the secrecy that surrounds the subject and that sometimes envelopes family members and friends of a suicide victim.
It's a subject that Zane knows too well. On Jan. 18, her husband, Peter Kingston, a man remembered as a caregiver and comforter of others, took his own life at the age of 56.
As Staff Writer Brett Wilkison reported on Sunday, Zane is making it her mission to bring the issues of suicide and mental illness out in the open — for the purposes of sharing, healing and, ultimately, preventing.
"We need to learn to talk about suicide," said Zane on the day of her husband's memorial.
As part of that discussion, Zane wants to address the complexities and dangers of mental illness as well as the inevitable anger, regret and fear that can surface for loved ones of a suicide victim.
Although Zane's husband was respected as a caregiver of others, he suffered from chronic anxiety and periods of depression. Family and friends say Kingston also was thrown into further distress by the financial troubles and planned closure of Ursuline High School, where he worked as finance director.
Kingston took his life five days after resigning from that position.
In the days that followed his death, Zane said she was surrounded by many loving friends and neighbors, many of whom she came to find out had lost loved ones in a similar way. Many were quietly living with the pain of that because of the stigma associated with suicide.
For those who have contemplated suicide or know of someone who has, the message is clear: There is help.
Two resources are the Sonoma County 24-hour psychiatric emergency services hotline at 576-8181 and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-TALK.
Help is also available for those who have suffered the loss of a family member or friend to suicide. For example, Sutter VNA and Hospice (535-5780) offers grief support.
Getting help is not a sign of weakness. It's a recognition that none of us are meant to carry these burdens alone, and there are people out there who are ready and able to give a hand.
"We need to stop being ashamed of our pain," Zane told Wilkison. "It's pain that brings us together as a community. It's pain that actually binds us. It is the most powerful element in our human lives. It can either destroy us .<TH>.<TH>. or bring out the best in us."
Our hope, particularly in these troubling times of high anxiety over job losses and economic hardships, is that it will be the latter. Given Zane's courage in taking this issue in public, we already see it happening.