painful past to educate others about suicide
• In 2000, 29,350
Americans died by suicide.
• More people die each
year from suicide than homicide.
• Suicide is the
11th-leading cause of death for Americans and the
third-leading cause of death for those age 15 to
• Males are more than four times more likely to
die from suicide than are females. However, females are
more likely to attempt suicide than are males.
1999, white males accounted for 72 percent of all
suicides. Together, white males and white females
accounted for more than 90 percent of all suicides.
Suicide rates are generally higher than the national
average in the Western states and lower in Eastern and
• Fifty-seven percent of suicides
in 2000 were committed with a
24-hour suicide hotline can be reached by calling either
845-364-2200 or 845-354-6500.
THE JOURNAL NEWS
(Original publication: July 18, 2003)
As a teenager, Dara Berger shied away from meeting new
people. Doing so meant explaining what happened to her mother.
Berger was 13 years old in 1984 when she and her father
returned to their Snedens Landing home from a day in New York
City and discovered her mother had hanged herself. Paula
Silverman had suffered from major depression and health
problems when she took her own life at age 41.
Losing her mother was painful enough, but Berger said her
anguish was made worse because most of her neighbors, friends
and family wouldn't talk to her about what had happened.
"It was as if my mother never existed," Berger said
Berger, now 32 and living in Manhattan, is putting the
finishing touches on her first feature-length documentary, "A
Secret Best Not Kept." The film explores the dimensions of
suicide, its impact on those left behind and the way suicide
is viewed by society at large.
"If my mom had died of cancer, people would feel bad, but
the conversation would go on," Berger said. "I want to let
people know it's OK to talk about it, that it's better to talk
Each year, nearly 30,000 Americans die by their own hand,
although mental-health advocates say the actual number may be
two or even three times higher.
By comparison, about 20,000 people are slain annually in
the United States.
For her film, Berger interviewed former neighbors, her
mother's close friend, her childhood best friend who lived
across the street, medical professionals, elected officials,
as well as people who have attempted suicide.
One of the myths she hopes the film debunks is that suicide
is a selfish act brought on by a particular incident, like
losing a job or the breakup of a relationship.
To the person contemplating suicide, Berger said, the act
is seen as the only escape from pain and suffering. The
problem is usually compounded by mental illness, such as
Through her work, Berger has become involved with the
Suicide Prevention Action Network, a nationwide organization
that lobbies for legislation for fair mental-health coverage
from insurance companies, seeks to secure more funding for
suicide-prevention programs and works with survivors.
Tomorrow through Tuesday, SPAN representatives from all 50
states will gather in Washington, D.C., to remember lost loved
ones and present their elected representatives in Congress
with thousands of letters supporting more suicide awareness
"The goal is to take the stigma out of the whole topic,"
said Mary Jean Coleman, who is SPAN's New York state community
organizer and the director of a suicide-prevention center in
Berger and her mother's best friend, Janet Hosking, will
also travel to Washington.
Hosking, who lives in Nyack, is in the process of forming a
Rockland chapter for SPAN.
She reunited with Berger a year ago by pure coincidence.
She met Sparkill resident Rob Barrett, the cinematographer on
Berger's film, at a church fair. That led to a telephone call
with Berger and, ultimately, getting involved with preventing
more suicides and comforting those affected.
Hosking wanted to involve herself because Silverman wasn't
the first person she cared about who committed suicide. She
lost another friend in 1972, as well as a neighbor.
"I was so shocked and in such pain, I guess that I wanted
answers to put the pieces together," Hosking said. "I feel
like I'm finding that in my friendship with Dara."
Berger said she hoped her film would help educate the
public. The former Long Island cable-TV news reporter intends
to submit the documentary to film festivals, with the goal of
having it air on cable.
The film will also be shown at mental-health conferences
and high schools, but there are no plans yet to screen it in