Roy Exum: Third Son Takes His Life

Tuesday, September 19, 2017 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

Steven Ferrin, described by his parents as “a handsome, bubbly and witty young man,” was the victim of what is called “a sectarian attack” in recent weeks near his home in north Belfast (Ireland) and last weekend was found dead after the 31-year-old father of a 7-year-old girl had taken his own life. Compounding the tragedy is the horrific news that Steven’s other two brothers and his first cousin have also died via suicide within the past six years. That’s right – each one of Patricia and Eddie Ferrin’s three sons took his own life.

Kieran Ferrin was 24 when he died in February 2014, this also after a sectarian attack that left him with a disfigured face. Then 19-year-old Niall Kieran committed suicide when he sought mental health and ended his life after waiting all day and not being seen by a doctor. Their cousin, Chris Ferrin, was also 19 when he ended his life. Additionally, five of Steven’s close friends have committed suicide in the past five years.

Northern Ireland leads the British Isles in suicide and it is believed a large amount of the tragedies are due to sectarian violence which, by definition, is “between different sects of one particular mode of ideology or religion within a nation/community.” In Northern Ireland, it is still the Catholics (who call themselves “Irish”) versus the Protestants (who call themselves “British,” although they live in Ireland.)

Closer to home, the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention tells us that 44,193 Americans will die from suicide a year and that number is rising. Suicide is now the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and costs us $51 billion (with a “b”) every year. Worse, it is believed for every suicide, there are 25 attempts.

Look at these figures:

* -- The annual age-adjusted suicide rate is 13.26 per 100,000 individuals.

* -- Men die by suicide 3.5 times more often than women.

* -- On average, there are 121 suicides per day in the United States.

* -- White males accounted for 7 of 10 suicides in 2015.

* -- Firearms account for almost 50% of all suicides.

* -- The rate of suicide is highest in middle age — white men in particular.

Recently “my psychiatrist” – the legendary Robert Spalding whose son Robert Jr. just paid a marvelous tribute – announced he would be retiring at age 86. As his family knows, he has helped thousands of us but now what few now realize is frightening. When I asked my internist who she thought should keep an eye on my mental health, her foreboding reply was, “Nobody is taking new patients … there is a horrible shortage of mental health providers in our area.”

I control my depression easily with the “maintenance meds” I am prescribed but here’s my new worry – a government study (2009-2013) believes 10 percent of adolescents aged 12-17 in Tennessee have what is called a Major Depressive Episode (MDE) every year. The same study shows a full two-thirds of those kids are never treated for it.

I have never been ashamed or reserved about admitting I take antidepressants. Conversely, the reason I make it public is in the hopes people will see I get along pretty well if I stick to my meds. If I can be a catalyst to encourage others who suffer to treat a mental condition just as they would diabetes or high blood pressure, hooray for them.

Depression, if not treated, can lead to suicide – it is that simple. But with today’s medicines, suicide can be prevented. Imagine what a better approach in mental health could do in Tennessee where it is the No. 10 reason for death? If 40 percent of those in the county jail are being given a quarter-million dollars in mental-health medications, it is obvious that more outside of the bars could benefit, especially those in blighted areas.

State government in Tennessee, as well as the federal government, has a woeful report card in mental health. Using 15 sources of data, an exhaustive study determined that Tennessee ranks No. 41 in the 50 United States. I still can’t get over the fact the Moccasin Bend Mental Health Hospital, with its 150 beds, is charged with serving 54 of the state’s counties. Law enforcement officers say the only way a patient can be seen at Moccasin Bend is “if they are an imminent threat to kill themselves or someone else.”

The biggest problem with mental health in Tennessee is that it is near the bottom of the food chain. There is no money available and, with mental illness and anxiety on the rise, you wonder what it is going to take to get people’s attention.

Three brothers from the same family each committing suicide within six years?

* * *

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

We can all help prevent suicide. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.


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