A Louisiana woman paralyzed after a suicide attempt shows warning signs of mental health struggles

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) — A River Parish woman who attempted suicide as a teen has made it her mission to save others.

Six years ago, competitive cheerleader from a hipster home, Emma Benoit, was a 16-year-old who seemed to have it all outside.

“I was really struggling with how to navigate my life,” says Benoit. “It just felt so much pressure for me to have it together.”

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that suicide kills 18 young people every day in the United States

For every death, there are 27 self-reported suicide attempts and 275 people who seriously considered suicide, according to the CDC.

CDC suicide statistics for June 2022
CDC suicide statistics for June 2022(CDC)

“I grew up thinking I needed to be pretty all the time and be fun all the time and be fun because that’s where I get validation,” says Benoit.

She’s living proof that you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s almost gone.

“I was really hopeless and attempted suicide,” she explains. “I shot myself in the chest. I got a spinal cord injury myself.”

Fortunately, Emma survived.

“I suffered severe injuries from the attempt and immediately after I pulled the trigger I regretted my decision,” she says.

Over the next three years, Emma worked with physiotherapists so she could walk again.

Now she travels the country, mostly in a wheelchair, to raise awareness about the factors that lead to suicide and how to deal with them.

“The truth is, there is absolute help,” says Benoit. “The resources and people there are ready and willing to listen and support you through what you’re going through.”

New Orleans City Councilman Joe Giarusso and St. Tammany Parish physician Dr. Charles Preston join the tens of thousands of Americans each year who have lost loved ones who have decided to commit suicide.

“My grandfather was tough and brave,” says Giarrusso. “But my father was softer.”

“My two brothers were two incredibly smart people,” says Dr. Preston. “We have to take away the shame and take away the guilt.”

Between 2000 and 2018, the country’s suicide rate increased by 36 percent before dropping in 2019 and 2020. Now, suicide rates are on the rise again. In 2021, 47,646 Americans committed suicide.

Experts say the recent rise in suicides may be due to the isolation created by the pandemic.

“My older brother had chronic paranoid schizophrenia,” says Dr. Preston. He was undergoing treatment. Good control. very successful. Vice President of a huge electronic company.

Despite his success, Preston’s 47-year-old brother spiraled because he wanted to go off his antidepressant medication.

Dr. Preston lost not one, but two brothers to suicide. In addition to Will, Dr. Preston’s 45-year-old brother Steve, an attorney, committed suicide due to complications from taking painkillers.

Now, Dr. Preston has made it his mission to try to prevent others from committing suicide by advocating for early intervention.

“What’s happening now is they go to the emergency room, they comply, they go to the psychiatric hospital, they restart the meds, they come out a few times, they deteriorate, they don’t comply,” says Dr. Preston. “Rinse and repeat. Rinse and repeat.”

Dr. Preston manages 500 commitments annually. For families who come for outpatient care for loved ones in distress, he says managed care early on is key.

“The number one piece of advice is don’t give up on your medication because that’s what creates the crisis,” says Dr. Preston.

Giaroso’s father was a lawyer and mediator, skilled in verbal communication, which he says made it more difficult to figure out what was really going on.

Experts say the suicide rate for men is four times higher than for women because men are generally less open about mental disorders.

“I think a lot of times we’re afraid to ask someone, ‘How are you? How do you feel?” Giarrusso says.

The councilman says there were no warning signs, but “maybe” signs, such as not having a church and not being careful about keeping his car clean.

“I know people want to look and say there must be something,” Giarrusso says. “Maybe it’s the depression. And it gets to a point where there’s a lot.”

Benoit says she tried hard to hide any emotion that might make her look like she was struggling.

Survivors urge you to seek outside help if you are feeling distressed or if you suspect someone is close to you.

Thanks to the creation of 988, a national suicide prevention hotline, resources are more available than ever.

Four North Shore parishes have united to offer free online therapy. Well connected to the Northshore Offers 2 therapy sessions per month with unlimited texting for 90 days to help with mental trauma after a hurricane.

Florida Diocese of Human Services Offers gun locks and therapy to combat over 50% of suicides that occur due to self-inflicted gunshot wounds.

CDC suicide statistics
CDC suicide statistics(CDC)

Don Mueller lost his 16-year-old son, Elliot, to suicide just four months ago. Elliot has Asperger’s and has been in and out of four mental health facilities during his senior year.

“When you’re in the thick of it, it’s hard to look for resources,” Mueller says. “We were just trying to keep our son alive.”

Mueller says he wishes he had turned to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) before it was too late and urges other parents to fully investigate the services available.

“If the individual shows signs of suicide,” says Nick Richard of NAMI. “The best thing you can do is open the door and ask if they need help.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says suicide is the second leading cause of death among children ages 10 to 14.

Benoit is now part of a program called Hope Squad that puts suicide prevention programs into schools.

If you or someone you know is in distress and you fear for their safety, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling 988.

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