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Nationally recognized speaker talks about suicide

BY DANIEL SEIDL | SEPTEMBER 11, 2013 5:00 AM

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Faced with several tribulations, namely long-term depression, then high-school student Jordan Burnham nearly left it all behind with a single jump from a nine-story window in an attempt at suicide.

But today, the happier 24-year-old’s life shares his once dark experiences as a way to prevent others from suffering as he did.

During a Tuesday evening event, he opened up to a crowd of roughly 200 at the University of Iowa’s Medical Education & Research Facility about the public health concern’s growing influence.

Beth Ritter Ruback, the communications and development director for the Johnson County Crisis Center, said currently, one in every four college students will think about committing suicide before they finish college.

For Burnham, one of the reasons for that statistic lies in the lifestyle choices made by many students today.

“The casual college life that every college student accepts really comes down to self injury,” he said. “Even if it doesn’t get to a suicide attempt, there can be many factors [that can contribute to suicide]”

According to the Iowa Department of Public Health, suicide is the 12th leading cause of death.

Among people ages 15 to 24, it stands as the second highest cause of death.

Local officials say the concern can also be felt closer to home.  

“Any suicides, particularly in a student community, is really a tragedy,” said Samuel Cochran, the director of the University of Iowa Counseling Service. “It really cuts off someone’s life.”

Each year, there are between two and three suicides by university students.

One of the reasons that suicide is such a big problem, Burnham said, is because people have a different perception of the mental illness than they do of other illnesses, which makes those suffering from suicidal thoughts less likely to seek help.

“These are things that get said, but kind of overlooked,” he said.

At the event on Tuesday, Burnham spoke of particular experiences and how various factors contributed to his suicide attempt.

Throughout middle school and high school, Burnham’s depression affected his social and family life, and he wasn’t able to tell people how he really felt.

“None of these people knew who the real Jordan was,” said Burnham. “It kills me on the inside.”

While coordinated specifically by the Johnson County Crisis Center, a number of organizations led in sponsoring the event.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, University of Iowa Student Government, and the Executive Council for Graduate and Professional Students all contributed to the event.

For several in attendance, the event brought out personal insight from those affected by suicide.

Cedar Rapids resident Jill Hockaday said that the event helped her cope with her son’s suicide.

“[I’m] just hearing how [Jordan] got to that point …Trying to feel what my son might have felt,” she said.

Ruback said the Crisis Center hopes to host a speaker such as this at least every two years.

But the event isn’t the only thing that people in Johnson County are doing to help raise suicide awareness. Recently, a $270,970 grant was given to a group of UI and community partners in Johnson County to help with the issue of suicide.

This week, from Sept. 8 to 14, is national suicide prevention week, and there are some other events planned in the county, including a fundraising walk at the end of the week.

Burnham hopes that his experience will help others be more open about their depression.

“If they can take one part [of what I’m saying] and apply it to their life … that’s all I care about,” he said. “The message is more important than the story.”


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