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Why We Build: Suicide attempt survivors share stories of pain and hope for others still struggling

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Tiffany Eckert
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KLCC
If someone feels at risk of dying by their own hand, the Coping Card has ready suggestions to "find your calm."

Lane County Public Health data tells us an estimated 25,000 residents seriously consider suicide each year-- and upward of 3,000 attempt it. Advocates believe society needs more than statistics to prevent suicide. We need to hear from those who have been there-- on the edge. KLCC spoke to suicide attempt survivors who shared their stories of pain and hope. A warning: This story may be disturbing to some listeners.

Kendra Stubbs grew up in a dis-functional household in Eugene where trauma and neglect were the norm. By 22, she had adopted her little sister to keep her safe. But Stubbs says her own mental health was in tatters.

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Kendra Stubbs
Kendra Stubbs on the Oregon coast in 2008, shortly after adopting her little sister Ryann and a few years before attempting suicide.

“I had convinced myself that you know people would be better off if I wasn't alive anymore and it's a really painful place to be,” she said.

When she was 25, Stubbs very nearly died. She doesn’t want to go into the details of her suicide attempt, but she says it involved alcohol.

“In our culture, we will say, ‘oh, you’re having a bad day, let’s go out for a drink.’ And if you’re suffering from depression, that’s the last thing you need,” she warned.

Most of what happened is a blur, but Stubbs remembers this part:

“I remember my friend took me to the hospital, kinda threw me over his shoulder,” she said. “I was kind of in and out of consciousness, but I do remember a very distinct thought that was, ‘Oh my gosh I'm actually gonna die.’ And I just felt so sad because that wasn't what I wanted.”

What she did want-- was to see her little sister grow up. And to get to know her niece, who was yet to be born.

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Kendra Stubbs
Little sis Ryann Stubbs (right) hugs Kendra while back on the Oregon coast, healthy and happy after a difficult time.

I didn't realize just how badly I wanted to live until I was nearly dead.”

Stubbs is now 36 and a clinical social worker in Springfield. She was recruited to be part of a Lane County Public Health suicide prevention project called, “Why We Build.”

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Tiffany Eckert
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KLCC
Kendra Stubbs in her office at Oregon Medical Group in Springfield where she practices as a clinical social worker.

Stubbs said when she told another therapist about sharing her story in the project, she was advised not to do it because people might think she’s incompetent.

“Having thoughts of suicide does not make somebody incompetent. It happens to highly educated, very competent people. It can happen to anyone and it happened to me.”

58 year old Dave Bartlett has suffered depression since he was a teenager. Sitting in the sunny backyard of his Springfield home, he describes what depression feels like.

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Dave Bartlett
Dave Bartlett suffered from bouts of depression through high school and college but didn't know what to call it.

“It's a feeling of utter despair. It’s hard to describe,” he said. “It's an inner ache like-- as if your soul is aching.”

Working in the Air Force Reserves in the ‘90s, Bartlett said he tried to talk about his depression and suicidal thoughts with his captain.

“He looked at me and said, ‘Sergeant Bartlett don't tell anybody else that -that's kind of career ending to talk like that,’” he recalled. “You know, “career ending” and I’m talking about ending my life.”

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Dave Bartlett
Dave Bartlett served in the U.S. Air Force and Air Force Reserves.

Today, Bartlett speaks frankly about his suicide attempt.

“I checked into the hotel. I had, a couple nights before been cutting open these blister packs of all these Unisom,” he said. “And so I started chowing down on the (sleep aid) pills and finished out a little note and prayed and unplugged the two phones lines in the hotel room. And then sat there for a while. And, sure enough I finally fell asleep and then- I woke up. I woke up.”

In a fog, Bartlett plugged a phone back in and called 911. He recalled his first thoughts.

“I don’t want to die. What have I done?”

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Tiffany Eckert
/
KLCC
Dave Bartlett stands in his backyard in Springfield where he likes to spend time woodworking.

It’s been 23 years since Dave Bartlett attempted suicide. He still has clinical depression but keeps dark thoughts at bay staying busy. He manages a car lot for St. Vincent de Paul in Eugene, does some woodworking. Bartlett loves his wife and daughter and leans on his Christian faith.

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Dave Bartlett
Dave Bartlett and his wife Sylvia on the front porch on their Springfield home.

This suicide attempt survivor agrees with people who say he’s “lucky he lived.” But he’s quick to add, “I also work my ass off. You’ve got to work at it. It just takes a baby step. Just one baby step,” Bartlett tears up, saying, “You’re worth it. You’re loved and you gotta try.”

Lane County’s “Why We Build” suicide prevention project uses photography and audio to share the intimate stories of 16 local suicide attempt survivors. The traveling exhibit opens in Eugene on March 4th.

As project participants, Kendra Stubbs and Dave Bartlett want their experiences to resonate with anyone struggling to find a reason to live and offer them the hope to try.

IF YOU OR SOMEONE YOU LOVE IS THINKING ABOUT SUICIDE, THE 24-HOUR NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION LIFELINE IS:

1-800-273-8255

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Lane County
Lane County Public Health's suicide prevention project Why We Build has been over two years in the making.

The “Why We Build” suicide prevention project exhibit can be viewed at four Locations in Lane County.

March 4-Broadway Commerce Center 44 W Broadway, Eugene with a reception from 5:30 - 8 pm

March 25-Opal Center for Arts & Education 513 E Main St, Cottage Grove with a reception from 6 - 8 pm

April 8- Emerald Art Center 500 Main Street, Springfield, with a reception from 5 - 8 pm

May 14- Siuslaw Public Library 1460 9th Street, Florence with a reception from 3 - 5 pm

Visitors to the galleries are encouraged to bring headphones to hear participants’ voices by scanning QR codes with a smartphone.

Tiffany joined the KLCC News team in 2007. She studied journalism at the University of Missouri-Columbia and has worked in a variety of media including television and daily print news. For KLCC, Tiffany reports on health care, social justice and local/regional news. She has won awards from Oregon Associated Press, PRNDI, and Education Writers Association.