Editor’s note: The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is a hotline for people in crisis or for those looking to help someone else. When people call, text, or chat 988, they will be connected to trained counselors who will listen and provide resources and support.
This is the second in a series of occasional stories about suicide. Read the first one here.
Amid a maelstrom of first responders, the family who’d lost a husband and father to suicide zeroed in on Julie Compton. Years earlier, she’d lost someone, too: Her son, Chantz. She counts herself among the survivors.
Compton volunteers with Tarrant County’s Local Outreach to Suicide Survivors team. She connects, sometimes immediately, with people after a death.
Her presence alone gave hope to the wife and three children who were left behind. “I know what it is,” she said. “It’s that, they see you’re OK.”
Compton’s arrival on scene after a suicide is emblematic of her commitment to show up when hope seems lost. She shows up for strangers, she shows up for colleagues, she shows up for friends. Postvention, the organized response to suicide, requires it.
Still, doing so again and again can take a toll. Compton herself has experienced depression. She draws energy from the hope that, one day, mental health will be less stigmatized — and that depression research from UT Southwestern Medical Center will help it get there.
‘Everybody’s a little different’
After Chantz died when he was 21, Compton didn’t mention suicide at his service. She wishes, now, that she’d taken the opportunity to share resources. “The sanctuary was just full of 20-somethings,” she said.
Between 2010, when Chantz died, and 2020, the suicide rate for people ages 18-25 increased 33%. Across almost every demographic, the rate has risen.
Through her son’s death, Compton learned the difference between regret and guilt.
“Guilt indicates you did something wrong with intention. You intended to cause harm,” she said. “Regret is something that you’d do differently now. But whatever you did, you were doing what you thought was the right thing to do.”
Processing what happened, and what didn’t, is part of many survivors’ stories, she said. Compton chose to do so in a grief group in Fort Worth. Her friend, a woman whose daughter died by suicide not long after Chantz, did not.
“That’s the thing we have to honor: Everybody’s a little different,” Compton said.
The grief group, then called The Healing Journey, met once a week for eight weeks. Two people — a mental health practitioner and a survivor — facilitated.
“I loved the guy that was the mental health person. He was great,” Compton remembers. “But who I really looked to was the survivor. She had lost her son, and with whatever was said, I would look at her, like, ‘What do you think about that?’”
The next grief group begins in October. If you’re interested in participating, or if you’re a mental health professional interested in facilitating, email email@example.com.
After a few years, the group changed hands and, ultimately, disbanded. Compton volunteered to help bring it back. In the late 2010s, the program returned with a new name: Healing After Suicide. The group’s purpose is partly to normalize talking about suicide, she said.
“This isn’t for everybody, but I feel like the more I can talk about (Chantz) and talk about how he died, then I’m taking away some of the shame,” she said. “Making it mentionable so it’s manageable, you know, to bring that into the light.”
The UT Southwestern Depression Cohort
Her hope for true suicide prevention rests in the destigmatizing powers of medical research, she said. In 2016, she enrolled in the largest, longest research study on depression in the U.S., whose lead researcher lives in Tarrant County.
Dr. Madhukar Trivedi directs the Center for Depression Research and Clinical Care at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. He hopes this study illuminates, over time, the inner workings of depression and how to address them early on.
“Every suicide indicates that something was not done before that event occurred,” he told the Fort Worth Report. “And so early identification, prevention, early treatment, all those components of work are really essential.”
Not everyone who has depression will die by suicide, he said, but the majority of people who attempt suicide experience depression.
Through the study, Trivedi specifically hopes to determine which tests can predict a person’s trajectory with depression, he said. For participants like Compton, that means she undergoes an annual MRI at UT Southwestern’s Moncrief Medical Center in Fort Worth and takes monthly surveys to assess how she’s feeling.
The study, which began in 2016, has close to 1,500 participants already. The goal, Trivedi said, is 5,000. Still, he added, recruitment can be difficult because not everyone knows they’re depressed and because of the stigma of depression.
“Everybody wants to be a little silent,” he said. “The only way to reduce darkness is light. This is my attempt at trying to bring some light.”
He hopes this story leads to more people enrolling, he said, because “everybody has a stake in this.”
If you’re interested in enrolling in a research study with the Center for Depression Research and Clinical Care, register here.
As for Compton, her days often intersect with other survivors.
She coordinates and co-leads grief groups through Healing After Suicide. As a LOSS team volunteer, she meets with people who’ve newly lost a loved one.
The week of Sept. 12, she’d texted with a survivor, visited a cemetery with a survivor, called a survivor on her way home, attended the funeral of a person who died by suicide, and interviewed with the Fort Worth Report.
She muses over the heaviness she absorbs. She wields humor and faith to lessen the load, but knows that, even as a leader and mentor, she’s not exempt from darkness. Last year, her friend and fellow grief group leader died by suicide.
“It seems like sometimes the folks that have killed themselves are some of the people with the most beautiful souls,” she said.
Compton’s longterm hope remains with the ongoing depression research from UT Southwestern. In the meantime, she chooses yoga and prayer and to go on walks, and she recently reached out to a counselor to process some of the weight.
That sort of debriefing, she said, is a good thing — whether with a mental health professional or in the places people live, work, learn and play.
As an education consultant and behavior specialist, she weaves her son’s story through the trainings she leads and approaches with compassion the people who’ve survived — and the memories of those who haven’t.
“Suicide isn’t a selfish act. It is pain,” she said. “It is such pain.”
Alexis Allison is the health reporter at the Fort Worth Report. Her position is supported by a grant from Texas Health Resources. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.