Expert says reasons are many; Petaluma building official may have been taking medication
The loss of a job and fear of financial ruin can drive people to suicide, but usually not without other compelling reasons, an expert said Wednesday.
"You have to be on the edge of the suicidal precipice before losing your job would kind of tip the scale," said Dr. Ronald Maris, author and professor emeritus of psychiatry at the University of South Carolina Medical School. "A lot of people lose their jobs. Very few people kill themselves."
His comments came a day after Petaluma's chief building official, Cliff Kendall, 55, shot and killed himself, stunning family and co-workers. His wife Patricia said he was distraught over being laid off along with 11 other city employees in a departmental downsizing and also was distressed by her health problems.
His last day on the job after more than eight years would have been next Tuesday.
Other family members Wednesday confirmed that Kendall's spirits sank over his looming unemployment and the possibility of losing his home.
There was disagreement within the family over whether Kendall was taking antidepressants and other medications. His wife insisted he was not.
"He absolutely was not on any drugs," she said.
However, his adult daughter and ex-wife said he recently was prescribed the antidepressant drug Wellbutrin to help him cope with the situation. And they questioned whether the treatment was appropriate.
"I think it was the pills," said his daughter, Rayne Kendall of Barstow, who spoke with her father by phone just hours before he shot himself at home. "It altered his mind."
His ex-wife, Cheryl Kendall Parker, also of Barstow, said Kendall also was taking pain-killers. She questioned whether the combination should have been considered deadly.
Parker said she remained close to Kendall over the years and the two recently spoke about a visit to see Kendall's new granddaughter.
"He did not just walk up to that room and blow his brains out sober," she said. "Who medicated him like that?"
In addition to his wife and daughter, Kendall is survived by an adult son, Troy Kendall of Florida.
Funeral services were pending.
Mayor Pam Torliatt said a memorial fund was established at Redwood Credit Union in Kendall's name to help his wife with expenses. Patricia Kendall was planning to take her husband's remains back to his native Florida, Torliatt said.
Grief counselors were at City Hall on Wednesday to talk with co-workers shaken by Kendall's death, she said.
"Everybody knew Cliff," Torliatt said. "It's hard on everyone."
Maris, the suicide expert, said suicides have been known to rise in hard economic times, but those who kill themselves often are dealing with issues such as depression, drug addiction or may just have ready access to firearms.
Maris, who has written 20 books on the subject and does forensic consulting, said maintaining employment is essential to mental health, especially for men.
Losing a cherished job or even going into retirement can be an emotional jolt that leads to suicide. Statistics show a third of all people who die at their own hands are unemployed, Maris said.
Historically, there is a slight increase in the suicide rate during economic downturns, he said. And white men older than 50 have by far the highest suicide rate, according to the Web site Suicide.org.
But it's never quite that simple, Maris said.
For people to kill themselves, other things also must be happening in their lives, Maris said.
Emotional instability, marital or financial problems or substance abuse can combine to influence decisions, he said.
"Suicide is multi-factoral," Maris said. "I would never support a one-cause theory of suicide."
You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 762-7297 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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