Facts 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 24.
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.
In 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 Midwestern states.
Fifty-seven percent of suicides in 2000 were committed with a firearm.

Suicide hotline
Rockland's 24-hour suicide hotline can be reached by calling either 845-364-2200 or 845-354-6500.

 

Woman revisits painful past to educate others about suicide

By KHURRAM SAEED
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 yesterday.

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 about it."

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 depression.

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 and education.

"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 Albany.

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 Rockland.