Find out about what a local group is doing to help with the growing suicide issue in the area.
Suicide is a topic that no one is comfortable discussing. However, the effects of this decision ripple through the lives of its survivors like a stone shattering the glasslike surface of a clean body of water.
In discussing suicide with Linn County Coroner Kenny Creason, he noted that there are two suicides per year in Linn County. Over the course of the last 12 years, Creason has seen as many as three in a year.
“Usually it is males who decide to commit suicide,” said Creason. “They tend to shoot themselves. Women don’t tend to find other ways to end their lives.”
One of these suicides that Creason had to work was the case of Taylor Wallace. Wallace was a young man who many would say had everything going for him. He was the Class of 2016 Brookfield High School Valedictorian. He died by suicide on October 27, 2016.
“Everything in his life seemed happy,” said his mother, Angie Wallace. “He was a normal, high achieving young man.”
But she noticed a change in Taylor after the sudden death of his gifted teacher, Pat Swift. Swift was an icon at the R-3 campus, influencing the lives of many students, including Taylor.
“When Pat Swift died his freshman year, we noticed a change,” said Angie. “It was the most traumatic event that had happened to Taylor; he had never lost someone who he was so close to. It was his first experience with grief.”
She continued: “He would go through his days still wanting to make Mr. Swift proud. But he wasn't sad or crying over Mr. Swift; he just wanted to make him proud.“
It was in his senior year when the Wallaces determined that Taylor may be suffering from depression. They sought help for Taylor from outside of the area, due to his preference of not wanting to share his problems at the local level.
“When his self-diagnosed depression hit his senior year, it began in the fall, and progressively got worse as the school year went on,” Angie recalled. “It hit a peak in the spring, and that's when we really thought he needed to talk to someone. We never even thought of the word suicide.“
Taylor was accepted to Columbia University in New York City. This event was covered in the LCL at that time.
“He was excited to get into Columbia, but things still started to change for him,” said Angie. “We sought counseling for him in Kansas City, based off of a recommendation from a friend. I had never had to deal with this kind of situation before.”
She continued: “He refused to see the counselors here, as he didn't want anyone to know. I knew there were some counselors here in town, but he didn't want to stay local with counseling. He saw a therapist Kansas City, and did really well with that. It helped to have someone to talk to.”
Taylor seemed to be doing better, Angie recalled, so he stopped seeing the therapist. But she noticed some changes in his behavior that concerned the family.
“He was angrier, he was using foul language, and that took us by surprise,” said Angie. “He withdrew, and had a lack of appetite. He became a recluse, just wanting to read, watch television, or be by himself. He loved the comfort of his room, and being at home. He loved his job in the lab at Pershing Memorial Hospital, and absolutely loved the people out there. That made his summer quite special.”
As the coming school year approached, Taylor’s anxiety reared its head again. A feeling of unworthiness filled the young Wallace as he prepared to jet off to The Big Apple.
“He had read up on the kids going to Columbia, and didn't feel that he compared to them,” recalled Angie. “He didn't think he was going to fit in, and wasn't sure he was going to like it. He would constantly say that he thought it would be too much. We took him to New York, and he was very apprehensive.”
The Wallace’s stayed with Taylor through orientation, and then headed back to Brookfield. Taylor seemed to enjoy his classes, especially his chemistry class, Angie noted. But when he came home to Brookfield to help celebrate Homecoming, Angie noticed a change in her son.
“He had started to drift back to depression, and the anxiety of returning to New York was bothering him,” she recalled. “But when he did return to New York, he was a mess. We would talk every night on Face Time. He would talk about wanting to come home, and even said he was having thoughts about jumping out his dorm room window. That concerned me.”
Angie suggested that Taylor seek the help of a counselor at Columbia. He did this, and the counselor reached out to Angie, and her husband Jered.
“He felt like he had to convince us that this was the right decision,” said Angie. “But we wanted him to make that decision, and we told him we would support whatever decision he made. I talked to the counselor, and she informed me that students come into her office every day with the same issues as Taylor. She noted that the school wasn't for everybody. She recommended that we let him come home, so I told him we would support his decision and get him a ticket to fly home.”
So on October 1, 2016, Taylor Wallace moved back home. He took a job working at Community Medical Associates, and all seemed well.
“He was so relieved to be home,” said Angie. “I remember standing in the hallway at our home, and he gave me the biggest hug, thanking me for letting him come home. I knew that I had made the best decision at that point.”
On October 27, the Wallace family took a college visit trip to Truman State University in Kirksville. Taylor was looking to transfer to Truman, and attend classes there with his cousin.
“He loved Melody Chambers, the Director of Admissions,” noted Angie. “She made him feel so welcome, and he even talked to the baseball coach about possibly trying out for the walk-on team. He was so excited that, on his way home, he emailed Phil Hamilton at the hospital, and told him how much he loved it. He said that he, his cousin, and his brother would be going here.”
But that would be the final day of Taylor Wallace’s life.
“That was the night he took his life,” said Angie. “No reasons, other than we believe that for a brief moment he felt things were out of his control. He couldn't handle the stress of things not going his way.”
The Brookfield community rallied around the Wallace family. A candlelight vigil was held at Burlington Field, sponsored by some local churches. A tree was planted in Taylor’s memory at Brookfield High School.
“The outpouring of support from this community, from the Columbia University community, and from strangers all over the United States has been unbelievable,” stated Angie. “Because of this, we have established the Taylor Gilpin Wallace Foundation for Suicide Prevention. We developed the foundation with the goal of educating adults and kids about suicide prevention and mental health awareness.”
She continued: “We didn't know the signs of a suicidal person. Looking back now, I can check off every single sign that says your child may be suicidal. I didn't know that at the time; suicide hadn't even crossed my mind.”
Suicide and mental health
According to the Missouri Department of Mental Health: two people die by suicide each day in this state. Our rate of suicide is greater than the national rate. Suicide is also the 10th leading cause of death in Missouri, with 74 percent of these suicides being performed by men.
“I don't understand why we don't talk about mental health,” stated Angie. “We talk about every other disease you can imagine. Whatever it is, you take care of the ailment, you get better, and you move on. But there is such a negative stigma to mental health that no one talks about it.”
She continued: “So many people, I can't begin to say how many people, have reached out to tell me that they are suffering from depression, or are on medication, their children have anxiety, or are cutting. They have thanked me for raising an awareness.”
This is one of the pillars that the Taylor Gilpin Wallace Foundation for Suicide Prevention is built upon; awareness and prevention of suicide.
“We want to help those people that might not know, like we didn't know,” said Angie. “Kids need to know who they can call, from where they can draw strength to make it through their tough times, and so that they can overcome whatever is bothering them.”
From the Center for Disease Control: Suicide is a serious public health problem that can have lasting harmful effects on individuals, families, and communities. While its causes are complex and determined by multiple factors, the goal of suicide prevention is simple: Reduce factors that increase risk (i.e. risk factors) and increase factors that promote resilience (i.e. protective factors). Ideally, prevention addresses all levels of influence: individual, relationship, community, and societal. Effective prevention strategies are needed to promote awareness of suicide and encourage a commitment to social change.
Wallace noted that the mental health needs of people are just not being met. “Mental health professionals are so understaffed around the country,” said Wallace. “We need so many more rural doctors in mental health. Suicide is higher in rural areas than anywhere else.”
Please, if you, or someone you know is contemplating death by suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).