PORT ANGELES — Reagan Mead is thankful to be alive.
When Mead was 16 and feeling all the pressures of being a teenager, she felt the only way out was to kill herself. In 2006, she drove to Crown Park in Port Angeles and shot herself in the chest with a .38 Special handgun and would have died had an ambulance not arrived in time.
“When I look back on that time of my life, it seems so minor all those problems I thought were never going to change, never going to get better — and I feel so lucky to be alive,” Mead told about 75 people who attended the World Suicide Prevention Day gathering in Port Angeles on Monday evening.
“It just hurts my heart to hear about all these teenagers who don’t get to survive.”
Mead was one of several people who spoke Monday. Some shared stories of when they attempted suicide while others spoke about the effect suicides have on surviving family and friends.
Because Mead survived, she saw first-hand the effect her suicide attempt had on those who loved her.
“When I saw the effect that what I had done had on not only my parents and family, but the community at large, it changed my perspective instantly,” she said.
She was on life support for more than a week and ended up in the psychiatric ward at Seattle Children’s Hospital. It took her months to heal.
When it was finally time for her to go back to Port Angeles High School, Mead said she was scared to face everyone there. Her mother forced her to face her fears and what she found was a community that wanted to support her — the opposite of what she expected.
“The support I got from teachers, staff and students was life-changing,” she said. “Just all of the support and love I felt going back to that high school was not what I expected at all.”
Brianna Kelly, one of the organizers of the event, said the goal was to get people talking about suicide.
“We feel it’s really important people get together and start these conversations about how we can prevent suicide,” she said. “There isn’t a magical answer, but there are lots of little things and we need to talk about it.”
Suicides this year in Clallam and Jefferson counties are on track to outpace the number of suicides last year. Though the number of suicides vary each year, Clallam County has seen an upward trend throughout the past 10 years, according to data from the Clallam County Prosecutor’s Office.
There are on average 123 suicides per day across the United States, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Leslie Perrizo described the moment she learned her brother had killed himself in October 2017.
“I was back in the Midwest visiting my folks and my mom gets a call from a sheriff in Minnesota,” she said. “I immediately took the phone as she broke down and cried.”
She said she was speaking for the survivors who have lost loved ones to suicide.
She said that when family members commit suicide the entire family is plunged into confusion and grief. There are questions of “why?” that go unanswered.
“As a survivor I feel no guilt and no shame,” she said. “I know some of my siblings do — they thought they could do more — but that just makes the grieving process all the more difficult to them.”
She told those who attended to spread friendship and support.
“Take the time to hug your loved ones, your family, your friends and your coworkers,” she said. “My prayer for you, the survivors, is that your loved ones’ memories bless you and your families as you allow God to be your refuge and your strength.”
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 800-273-8255.
In Port Angeles and Sequim, the crisis line for Peninsula Behavioral Health is 360-452-4500 or 800-843-4793. Offices are located at 118 E. Eighth St., in Port Angeles and at 490 N. Fifth Ave., in Sequim.
Discovery Behavioral Healthcare in Port Townsend provides free crisis services to all residents of East Jefferson County. Crisis services are available on a walk-in basis at 884 W. Park Ave., from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Mondays through Fridays. The 24-hour crisis line is 360-385-0321 or 1-877-410-4803.
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].