Louisiana woman paralyzed after suicide attempt shares warning signs of mental health struggle

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) – A River Parish woman who tried to kill herself as a teen has made it her mission to save others.

Six years ago, Emma Benoit was a competitive cheerleader in a loving home, a 16-year-old girl who had it all on the outside.

“I was really struggling with how to navigate my life,” says Benoit. “I felt so much pressure on myself to keep it together.”

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that 18 youth commit suicide every day in the US

According to the CDC, for every death, 27 are self-reported suicide attempts and 275 people seriously contemplating suicide.

CDC Suicide Statistics June 2022(CDC)

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

He’s living proof that you don’t know what you have until it’s almost gone.

“I was really depressed and I tried to take my own life,” she says. “I shot myself in the chest. I hurt myself in the spine.”

Luckily, Emma survived.

“The attempt resulted in serious injuries, and I regretted my decision immediately after pulling the trigger,” she says.

For the next three years, Emma worked with physical therapists so she could walk once again.

Now she travels around the country, mostly in a wheelchair, spreading awareness about the causes of suicide and ways to combat it.

“The reality is there’s a whole lot of help out there,” says Benoit. “The resources and the people out there are willing to listen to you and support you in what you’re doing.”

New Orleans City Councilman Joe Giarusso and St. Tammany Parish Coroner Dr. Charles Preston join the thousands of Americans each year who lose loved ones who chose to take their own lives.

“My grandfather was tough and gritty,” Giarusso says. “But my father was very soft.”

“Both of my brothers were incredibly smart people,” says Dr. Preston. “We have to remove the shame and remove the guilt.”

The country’s suicide rate increased by 36 percent between 2000-2018 before falling in 2019 and 2020. Now, the suicide rate is on the rise again. In 2021, 47,646 Americans will take their own lives.

Experts say the recent increase in suicides may be due to the isolation brought on by the pandemic.

“My oldest brother had chronic paranoid schizophrenia,” says Dr. Preston. “He was undergoing treatment. Very well controlled. very successful. Vice President of a giant electronics corporation.”

Despite his success, Preston’s brother Will, 47, spiraled because he wanted to get off anti-depressants.

Dr. Preston faked the suicide of not one, but two brothers. In addition to Will, Dr. Preston’s 45-year-old brother Steve, an attorney, also took his own life due to complications from pain medications.

Now, Dr. Preston has made it her mission to try to prevent others from committing suicide by advocating for early intervention.

Dr. Preston says, “What happens now is they go to the emergency room, get committed, go to the psychiatric hospital, restart medications, get discharged multiple times, get worse, don’t comply. Huh.” “Rash and repeat. Rinse and repeat.”

Dr. Preston conducts 500 commitments a year. For families reaching out to care for their loved ones in crisis, he says prompt managed care is critical.

“The first advice is not to stop your medication because that’s what triggers the crisis,” says Dr. Preston.

Giarasso’s father was a lawyer and mediator, skilled in verbal communication, which he says made it very difficult to figure out what was really going on.

The suicide rate is four times higher among men than women because men are generally less likely to talk openly about mental distress, experts say.

“I think a lot of times we’re afraid to ask someone ‘How are you? How are you feeling?’ Girarusso says.

The councilor says there were no warning signs, but there were “maybe” signs, such as disappearing from church and not being as quick to keep his car clean.

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

Benoit says she tried really hard to hide any emotion that made it look like she was struggling.

Survivors urge you to seek outside help if you are feeling distressed or if you suspect someone close to you.

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

Four parishes on the north coast have banded together to provide free online therapy. Well-connected Northshore offers two therapy sessions a month with unlimited text messaging for 90 days to help with post-hurricane trauma.

The Florida Parish Human Services Authority provides gun locks and therapy to combat the more than 50% of suicides that result from self-inflicted gunshot wounds.

CDC suicide statistics
CDC suicide statistics(CDC)

Dawn Mueller lost her 16-year-old son, Elliott, to suicide four months ago. Elliot has Asperger’s and was in and out of four mental health centers during his final year.

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

Mueller says she wishes she had turned to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) before it was too late and urges other parents to fully investigate what services are available.

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

The CDC says suicide is the second leading cause of death among 10-14-year-olds.

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

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

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