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Suicide -- Faces, not facts
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Forsyth County News

About this series

This article is the third in a three-day online series examining the rise of suicide threats and attempts in Forsyth County.

Saturday: A call for help

Sunday: Working through crisis

Today: Faces, not facts

By the numbers

Suicide threats and attempts over the past decade:

• 2002 — 27 suicide threats, 35 attempts

• 2003 — 44 threats, 21 attempts

• 2004 — 56 threats, 69 attempts

• 2005 — 86 threats, 68 attempts

• 2006 — 77 threats, 72 attempts

• 2007  — 99 threats, 68 attempts

• 2008 — 112 threats, 111 attempts

• 2009 — 105 threats, 104 attempts

• 2010 — 113 threats, 79 attempts

• 2011 — 102 threats, 66 attempts

• 2012 — 138 threats, 101 attempts

Total — 956 threats, 794 attempts

Source: Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office

Through the years

Suicides by year:

• 2002— 7

• 2003 — 6

• 2004 — 7

• 2005 — 11

• 2006 — 10

• 2007 — 21

• 2008 — 15

• 2009 — 22

• 2010 — 23

• 2011 — 15

• 2012 — 11

Total:  148

Note: Murder-suicides occurred in 2003, 2006 and 2012

Source: Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office

In the past 10 years, 117 men and 31 women have taken their own lives in Forsyth County.

The average age is about 45 years old, and the median is 44.

Gunshot has been the most used method with 98 of those people choosing a firearm, followed by 31 hangings and seven drug overdoses.

The numbers, though, are just that — numbers.

Karen Copija sees them. The sheriff’s office employee sends all required local crime statistics to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

She began paying special attention to tracking the suicide figures in 2006. That’s when her 16-year-old son, Kyle, took his own life.

Copija has since gotten involved with helping others through the situation of losing a loved one to suicide as one of the facilitators of a Survivors of Suicide support group in Cumming.

Now, she sees some of the faces, not just names and numbers.

“I’ll recognize the name and then they’ll start talking about the story behind it,” Copija said. “Often times, it’s because of a relationship, they’re getting a divorce, or they’ve lost their job and are struggling financially.

“But there’s no one thing that typically will cause a suicide. Ninety percent of the people that die by suicide have an undiagnosed mental disorder, [according to the CDC] and usually it’s depression.”

Copija is one of three facilitators in the local group, which has seen more people at meetings since its formation in April 2011.

Sherry Unwala, who also runs the local SOS, said the group helps people through the difficult and unique emotions of suicide.

“This is not a normal death,” Unwala said. “It’s not an accident. It’s not an illness. The person decided to take their own life.”

The group continues to see new members who bond over those shared emotions and give each other support. The new faces of survivors seem to show up each meeting, Unwala said. It’s a bittersweet occurrence.

Another survivor means another suicide, but it also means people have the courage to seek help in the wake of such a death.

“It’s sad, but we’re glad we’re there for them,” Unwala said. “We become like a family.”

Unwala lost her son, Karl, to suicide in 2008. He was 26. The pain of the loss is devastating, but his passing created a new path in her life.

Like Copija, she has become someone who can help others through their struggles and an advocate for suicide prevention and awareness for mental illness — topics that those who haven’t experienced the loss may not be willing to discuss.

“Before I lost Kyle, it would have made me uncomfortable to talk about it, to ask about it,” Copija said. “Sometimes, people that know me don’t want to talk about it or talk about Kyle, per se, because they think it’s going to upset me.

“It doesn’t upset me. There’s such a stigma attached to suicide, but we’ve got to get past the stigma to talk about it.”