The death of Don Cornelius, creator and host of the dance show Soul Train, caught many by surprise. The surprise turned to shock when it was revealed he apparently had committed suicide.
Why would anyone who seemed to have success on a leash take his life?
There are plenty of theories and danger signs, but no sure answers. And our youth and military service men and women seem to be the most vulnerable.
According to the Kentucky Suicide Prevention Group, suicide is the No. 2 cause of death among young people in this state. Accidents are first.
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Plus, according to the Department of Veteran Affairs, a veteran takes his or her life every 80 minutes. According to a report released in November by the Center for a New American Security, former service members represent 20 percent of the nation's suicides, but only 1 percent of the population.
Those statistics startled Kathryn R. Abernathy of Lexington. She had attended Operation: Headed Home, a conference for veterans, family members and health professionals that addressed the needs of military personnel with traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress syndrome.
She decided the information could transcend the military and help other families as well. "I am hoping it is a good program for the community as well as military families," she said.
That program is "Do You Have 90 Minutes to Save a Life?," a training session taught by Jan Ulrich, the state suicide prevention coordinator with the Department for Behavioral Health, that can help parents, friends, ministers, co-workers and others to recognize a person in crisis.
Aimed at people 18 and older, the session teaches participants to question, persuade and refer, three steps to recognizing the warning signs of a suicide, offer hope and find help. It's referred to as QPR.
"Think of it as CPR," Ulrich said. "We teach basic techniques until a professional can come in."
In QPR, participants learn to do a lot of listening for clues that people might be in crisis, she said.
"The most important thing to know is suicide is preventable," she said. "Early intervention is important, and the person most likely to offer that is someone that the person in crisis already knows."
The situation in Kentucky is improving, Ulrich said. Kentucky has gone from having the 10th-highest incidence of suicide in the nation in 2007 to being 23rd in 2009.
"It is slowly declining in the state while it is increasing across the nation," she said. "Something we're doing is better."
Abernathy asked to bring the program to her church because when she lived in another state, a respected church member took his life. She wondered whether she could have done something to prevent that tragedy.
To help others be more aware of danger signs, the free QPR training is being offered.
Ulrich limits the sessions to no more than 30 participants, so reservations are required by Feb. 18. If more people are interested, she said, she would set up another session at another date.
"I want people to come to this and learn something that will help their families," she said. So do I.