Shattering the silence of elderly suicide

Joann Decker’s mother, Sylvia Mekosh, suffered from manic depression for as long as Decker can remember. In December, it will be three years from when her mom committed suicide.

“She was a character,” said Decker about her mother. “She enjoyed Halloween, she enjoyed Christmas the most. I think there was a lot of her family history wrapped around the holidays.”

In the passing months and years, Decker has found perspective amid the pain of losing her mother.

“I think I cycle through a lot. Initially I was very angry, an anger I never felt; angry at the world, angry at my mother, angry at myself,” said Decker.

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License clinical psychologist David Haynes-Weller says that is an acceptable way to begin healing.

“In some ways that’s a healthy process,” say Dr. Haynes-Weller. “Questions of why did they do this to me and a lot of anger comes from that [and can help someone] let go.”

Susan Britt and Mary England are sisters to Joann Decker.  They all realize that letting go won’t dampen the constant reminders.

“Mary loves to garden, so of course when it’s spring time she’s going to miss my mother,” said Britt. “We have kids and I think there are times when there are things that involve the kids and you say, God I wish mom was here to see this. One of my kids is in the military and mom was very proud of the United States, so that’s something she would’ve been happy about.”

These sisters share a special bond. Dr. Haynes-Weller says a support system, such as family, can help sort out the waves of overwhelming emotions that come with grieving the loss of a parent to suicide.

“If the society, or the culture, or the friends around the person, or survivors, are really uncomfortable talking about the suicide, which is often the case, the individuals can be come disenfranchised from their support system which is so important with natural, normal grieving,” said Haynes-Weller.

Mary England credits counseling with the courage they now have to share their story of loss and hope, to help save a life and heal a family.

“It’s still kind of taboo,” said England, “mental health issues are not something people want to talk about.” “My mom was a big advocate for mental health issues. Sometimes I would see something about a new medicine and say, you need to ask the doctor, maybe this is the one. It was kind of heartbreaking when it didn’t work and it was very difficult for her. You feel for them – they really are trying,”

“I just hope in my head that she’s not hurting anymore and that she’s healing and she’s happy,” said England.

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Saturday, November 23, is International Survivors of Suicide Day. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is hosting the 15th annual event. It will be held at The Community Center at Giant, 3301 Trindle Road, Camp Hill. The program starts at noon and admission is free. For more information, or to pre-register, contact Kelly McEntee: KJMcEntee@gmail.com or 717.728.6791. Walk-ins are welcome, but pre-registering is appreciated.

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The suicide rate among adults 65 and over has consistently been higher than any other age group in the U.S. However it’s the latest results of a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that may be the most alarming.

In that study, scientists found a sharp increase of suicide among middle-aged Americans aged 35-64. Within that age group analysts found the greatest increases in suicide rates were among people aged 50 to 54 and 55 to 59 – nearly 50 percent.

Some fear that if left unchecked, this spike could transfer into the elderly age group. Experts believe that suicides among seniors already go largely under-reported.


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