Ross Kiely was by all accounts, an introvert. He could charm a small crowd of friends, but with a group of unknown people he felt awkward and unsure of himself.
Ross took the long way through college, said his dad, graduating from the University of Rhode Island when he was 29. He loved working outdoors, and held a job at an organic farm in Little Compton for about three years, his longest stretch of employment.
So on Dec. 21, 2009, when Neil and his wife found Ross dead in the family’s Ferry Road garage of an apparent suicide, they were speechless.
“My wife just dropped everything she had and started screaming and crying,” Neil recalled of that cold, wintery morning. “But, I’m not sure if it’s because she was a therapist or what, but after about 90 minutes it seemed of finding him, she turned to me through her tears and said ‘honestly I think we did everything we could have possibly done.’ I really believe that.”
Neil fully believes that hindsight is 20-20. Reflecting back, could he and his wife Laurie, have prevented Ross from taking his own life? It’s a question that Neil doesn’t know how to answer.
“I’m not really sure that once someone has made their mind up to do that, that you can change that,” he said.
Shortly after Ross’ death, Neil and Laurie went into action. The two attended numerous support groups and were asked to join the Butler Hospital Corporation. They also helped form the Rhode Island Chapter of American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).
“With an AFSP chapter in Rhode Island, we can focus on the importance of education, research, advocacy and the need to support those left behind,” Neil said.
Neil, Laurie and Bristol resident Diane Mariani are organizing the East Bay’s first-ever Out of the Darkness Community Walk for suicide prevention, on Oct. 27 at 10 a.m. at Colt State Park. The goal of the walk is to not only raise funds for local programs, but also to raise awareness about suicide and decrease stigma surrounding mental illness.
“I think we’ve built a society that when it comes to depression, we question if that’s really an illness,” said Robert Gebbia, executive director of AFSP. “They wonder ‘shouldn’t people really be able to pull themselves together’? It wasn’t seen as genetic, but as a behavioral problem.
“But the more we recognize this as a real illness, the earlier we diagnose it and other disorders, the more likely you won’t have a reoccurrence. In some cases, you can manage it.”
According to the most recent data from the Centers for Disease Control, there were 129 suicides in Rhode Island in 2010. In 2009, there were 118
deaths. Nationally, the suicide rate has been on the rise, but specifically among middle-age Americans between 45-65 years old.
“I never in a million years would have thought that Ross would have committed suicide,” Neil said.
Looking back, Neil believes that his son committed to ending his life earlier in 2009 when on Nov. 8, Ross intentionally drove his car into Aidan’s Pub. Ross later told his dad that a voice in his head told him to do it.
Ross was sent to an intensive in-patient facility where he struggled to cope with his issues. As the weeks progressed, Ross was ready to go home and the doctors agreed. He was to be in intensive out-patient care following the holidays.
That was on a Saturday afternoon. Less than 36 hours of being released, his parents found his lifeless body.
“He was the happiest I’d seen him in a long time,” Neil said, recalling when they picked Ross up from the hospital. The family went to pick out a Christmas tree and Ross seemed overjoyed to be out and about.
“If he had known of the carnage, the hurt he would have left behind, he wouldn’t have done this,” Neil said.
“This wasn’t Ross who did this. This was the result of the pain and anguish he was feeling. This wasn’t a rational decision.”
Mr. Gebbia believes that the idea of suicide in a community is changing, but slowly. The Out of the Darkness walks are designed to get the community talking about the topic.
“Historically, people didn’t talk about it,” he said. “And that has the potential to be fatal. If someone is feeling so despondent that they believe suicide is the only way out, they need to know that it’s OK to talk about these issues. Through that, we hope people will get the help they need.”
To learn how you can get involved in the Rhode Island chapter email [email protected] or visit www.afsp.org.