Louisiana woman paralyzed after attempted suicide shares warning signs of mental health issues

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) – A River Parishes woman who attempted suicide as a teenager has made it her mission to save others.

Six years ago, Emma Benoit was a competitive cheerleader from a loving home, a 16-year-old who seemed to have everything on the outside.

“I was really struggling with how to navigate my life,” says Benoit. “I felt so much pressure for me to have it together.”

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) say that 18 young people commit suicide in the United States every day

For every death, there are 27 self-reported suicide attempts and 275 people who have seriously considered suicide, according to the CDC.

CDC Suicide Statistics June 2022
CDC Suicide Statistics June 2022(CDC)

“I grew up thinking I had to be pretty all the time and funny all the time, and the bubbly one, because that’s where I get my validation,” says Benoit.

She’s living proof that you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s almost gone.

“I was really hopeless and tried to kill myself,” she explains. “I shot myself in the chest. I sustained a spinal cord injury.”

Luckily Emma survived.

“I sustained some pretty serious injuries from the attempt, and as soon as I pulled the trigger, I regretted my decision,” she says.

For the next three years, Emma worked with physical therapists to help her walk again.

Now she travels the country, mostly in a wheelchair, raising awareness of the factors that lead to suicide and how to deal with them.

“The reality is there is absolutely help out there,” says Benoit. “Resources and people out there who are willing and ready to listen to you and support you in what you are going through.”

New Orleans City Councilman Joe Giarrusso and St. Tammany Parish Medical Examiner Dr. Charles Preston, each year joins tens of thousands of Americans who have lost loved ones and decided to take their own lives.

“My grandfather was tough and courageous,” says Giarrusso. “But my father was much softer.”

“Both my brothers were incredibly smart people,” says Dr. preston “We must shed the shame and shed the guilt.”

Between 2000 and 2018, the country’s suicide rate increased by 36 percent, before declining in 2019 and 2020. Now suicide rates are rising again. In 2021, 47,646 Americans took their own lives.

Experts say the recent spike in suicides could be due to the isolation caused by the pandemic.

“My oldest brother had chronic paranoid schizophrenia,” says Dr. preston “He was under treatment. Very well controlled. Very successful. Vice President of a giant electronics company.”

Despite his success, Preston’s 47-year-old brother, Will, went into a spiral trying to get off his antidepressants.

dr Preston lost not one but two brothers to suicide. In addition to Will, Dr. Preston’s 45-year-old brother Steve, a lawyer, died due to complications from painkillers.

Now it’s Dr. Preston made it his mission to try to discourage others from committing suicide by promoting early intervention.

“What’s happening now is they go to the ER, get admitted, go to the psychiatric facility, go back on the meds, get discharged multiple times, deteriorate, become noncompliant,” says Dr. preston “Rinse and repeat. Rinse and repeat.”

dr Preston manages 500 commitments per year. For families looking for outside care for loved ones in need, early care is key, he says.

“The first piece of advice is don’t go off your medication because that’s what’s causing the crisis,” says Dr. preston

Giarrusso’s father was a lawyer and mediator who was adept at verbal communication, which he said made it much more difficult to figure out what was really going on.

Experts say that the suicide rate in men is four times higher than in women because men are generally less likely to be open about psychological distress.

“I think we’re often afraid to ask someone, ‘How are you? How are you feeling?” says Giarrusso.

The councilman says there were no warning signs, but “maybe” signs, like missing church and not taking care to keep one’s car clean.

“I know people want to look and say there must be something there,” says Giarrusso. “It was probably depression. And it gets to a point where it’s just too much.”

Benoit says she tried very hard to hide any emotions that might make it seem like she was fighting.

Survivors urge you to seek outside help if you feel distressed or if you suspect it from someone close to you.

Thanks to the creation of 988, a national suicide prevention hotline, more resources are available than ever.

Four North Shore communities have joined forces to offer free online therapy. Well Connected Northshore is offering two therapy sessions per month with unlimited texting for 90 days to help with post-hurricane mental trauma.

The Florida Parishes Human Services Authority provides gun locks and therapy to combat more than 50% of suicides caused by self-inflicted gunshot wounds.

CDC Suicide Statistics
CDC Suicide Statistics(CDC)

Don Mueller lost his 16-year-old son Elliott to suicide just four months ago. Elliott has Asperger’s and was in four psychiatric facilities during his senior year.

“When you’re in the middle of it, it’s hard to look for resources,” says Mueller. “We were just trying to keep our son alive.”

Mueller says he wishes he had contacted the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) before it was too late and urges other parents to do full research into what services are available.

“When a person is showing signs of suicide,” says NAMI’s Nick Richard. “The best thing you can do is open the door and ask if they need help.”

According to the CDC, suicide is the second leading cause of death in children ages 10 to 14.

Benoit is now part of a program called the Hope Squad, which sets up suicide prevention programs in schools.

If you or someone you know is in distress and you fear for their safety, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline on 988.

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