This article originally was published in the Enid News & Eagle as part of a package of stories highlighting the silent threat of depression and mental illness, and the effects of suicide on family members left behind. If you recognize the signs in this article in someone you know, please take the initiative to connect them with help.
Enid, Oklahoma — Local families are sharing their stories of loss from suicide, in hopes others will face the risks of suicide head-on, before it is too late.
“I just want to let people know that every life is worth living,” Sandy Jordan said. “I want to raise awareness of suicide for people, and I want people to know there is hope.”
Jordan has a deeply personal reason for wanting to share her story. And like most parents, it’s not a story she thought she’d be sharing.
“My son killed himself — shot himself in the head — when he was 24 years old,” Jordan said.
She remembers her son, Brandon Reynolds, as a light-hearted young man and loving father of four who lived in the Enid area.
“He was very smart,” Jordan said. “He wrote poetry, he was a good welder, and he liked to tell corny jokes. He was a good father, and just a funny guy everyone liked to be around.”
But, behind Brandon’s gregarious exterior he struggled with bipolar disorder and depression.
Jordan said her son’s mental health issues were kept in check with medication when he was a teenager, but when he moved out on his own, he often would go off his medication.
“A lot of times people who struggle with mental illness, when they grow up and move out they don’t get proper care,” Jordan said. “He just didn’t get the medicine he needed.”
Brandon attempted suicide twice in 2012, both times by overdosing on his medication, Jordan said. Both times he was hospitalized, and both times released at his own request.
On his last attempt, Jordan said Brandon was determined to complete the process.
“He left three suicide notes … and he made sure he wasn’t going to live,” Jordan said.
Brandon took another overdose of medication, then shot himself.
Jordan said she shares Brandon’s story to raise awareness of mental health issues, and to encourage other families to learn the warning signs of depression and suicide.
“I know we can’t save everybody, but we have to try,” Jordan said. “The most important thing is for families to learn the signs, and to be willing to talk about it.”
‘You have to listen’
Jessica Quimby also is sharing her story in hopes it will jolt other families into talking openly about the tough subjects of mental illness and suicide.
“We tend to sweep it under the rug when someone is facing depression, or any kind of mental illness,” Quimby said, “and that’s something you have to be willing to talk about.”
The loss of a child to suicide would be devastating to any parent. Quimby suffered through that nightmare twice in less than a year, losing two of her three sons to suicide between late 2015 and summer 2016.
Quimby said all her sons, and especially her two oldest, Aaron and Derek, were close when growing up in Fairview.
“They had always shared everything because their birthdays were six days apart,” Quimby said. “I was a single mom with three boys, so my boys were close.”
Quimby said her oldest son, Aaron, was “a really good dad who liked to take care of everybody.”
She said Aaron suffered from depression, and “became overwhelmed” by marital problems in 2015.
Quimby said she and Aaron’s wife were worried about Aaron, but didn’t know how bad his depression had become.
On Halloween night, he took his kids trick-or-treating, and seemed to be doing fine, Quimby said.
Later that night, Aaron went to a friend’s house, and there, while he was on the phone with his wife, he shot himself. He was 29 years old.
Quimby received the news about Aaron’s death with her middle son, Derek, when a police officer knocked on her door shortly after 3 a.m.
“I didn’t know what was going on,” Quimby said. “The police told us he had shot himself and expired. At that point, we were in shock and hysterical.”
Quimby said she was paralyzed with grief after Aaron’s death.
“I don’t remember a lot of the first few days,” she said. “You just want to crawl in bed and stay there. Your friends quit talking to you. I became very obsessed with everything about my boys. … You just don’t expect to bury your child.”
She said her middle son, Derek, took Aaron’s death especially hard.
“He just completely lost his mind,” Quimby said. “He was so overwhelmed with grief.”
Derek started sleeping in the shed with Aaron’s motorcycle, and took to wearing his older brother’s clothes.
To numb the pain, Derek started using drugs, and quickly fell to methamphetamine. Quimby said the meth caused Derek to suffer from paranoia.
“He would just take off, and you wouldn’t know where he was at,” Quimby said. “He would change his phone number, and just disappear.”
Derek began having run-ins with law enforcement, and at 25 he lost his job — the first time he’d been unemployed since he was 14.
“The behavior just kept getting worse, and the drugs and the paranoia got worse,” Quimby said. “That’s when he started talking about suicide.”
Quimby said she tried repeatedly to get Derek into the hospital, but he would refuse, and disappear.
Derek was admitted to 48 hours of inpatient care after trying to hang himself during a stint in jail. But, he checked himself out as soon as possible, and went back on the run, Quimby said.
On June 23, 2016, Derek quit running. He shot himself, but didn’t immediately die.
Quimby got the second call in less than eight months that a son had shot himself, and rushed to OU Medical Center in Oklahoma City, where Derek had been taken by helicopter.
“At that point, I didn’t know how bad it was,” Quimby said. “I knew he’d shot himself, but they had been able to take him to a hospital, so I thought he had just injured himself.”
She knew it was much worse when a nurse came in to discuss donating Derek’s organs.
“I thought … with modern medicine they could save him,” Quimby said. “But, she told me they couldn’t.”
The next morning Derek was taken into surgery, and was pronounced dead after donating his kidneys, lungs and liver.
“I never thought I’d lose one son, and all the sudden I’ve lost two and I’m back at the funeral home planning another funeral,” Quimby said.
She wants other parents to learn from her story, and intervene before their loved ones sink to the place Aaron and Derek didn’t survive.
“You have to listen,” Quimby said. “When they tell you they’re hurting, no matter if you’ve heard it a thousand times before, you listen. If they tell you they’re feeling suicidal, you find any available resource and you get them somewhere. A regular person can’t handle that — you need professional help.”
“Depression and mental illness is just like anything else,” Quimby said. “It can be fixed if you go out and look for the help.”
Knowing the signs
Tree Perkins, foster care and development director at Youth and Family Services of North Central Oklahoma, said families can look for signs and symptoms to protect their loved ones. Perkins works with families of those who have committed suicide — and people who have survived attempted suicide — in a support group.
“The first thing to look for is when a person starts to talk about suicide, and when they talk about wanting to die or wanting to kill themselves,” Perkins said.
She said people at risk will start to make offhand remarks like, “If I were dead” or “If I weren’t here.”
“When they talk about being hopeless and having no reason to live, and certainly if they seem to be experiencing a lot of emotional pain, those are things we need to pay attention to,” Perkins said.
She said when warning signs come up, family members need to be direct about addressing the issue.
“Instead of just saying, ‘It will get better,’ or ‘Time heals all pains,’ we need to address those things head-on,” Perkins said. “We have to be comfortable with talking about suicidal thoughts with people, instead of wondering or beating around the bush. We need to come right out and ask them, ‘Are you having thoughts of suicide?’”
She said many people hesitate to ask questions about depression and suicide because they don’t want to offend or anger a friend or loved one.
“What we have discovered is people who are having those suicidal thoughts are not going to be shocked or insulted that you come right out and ask those questions,” Perkins said. “Most of the time they want to talk about it, or they wouldn’t be giving you so many signals.”
Perkins said if someone is having suicidal thoughts, they need help. If they’re having suicidal thoughts and they have a plan, they need help immediately.
“If you feel they’re in immediate danger, notify family or friends so they aren’t left alone, and get them to a mental health professional,” Perkins said. She said if someone is at immediate risk to call 911.
Free, confidential help for anyone in distress is available through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (1-800) 273-TALK (8255).