‘These are mental illnesses’: Local mother of son who died by suicide helps spread awareness

‘These are mental illnesses’: Local mother of son who died by suicide helps spread awareness

As people around the world are reeling from the recent loss of two prominent celebrities to suicide – fashion icon Kate Spade and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain – new numbers show that suicide is in fact on the rise, both countrywide and locally.

A new report from the CDC says between 1999 and 2016, suicides in Washington state increased by almost 20 percent. In Kennewick alone, police said they’ve responded to 53 suicide attempt calls just in 2018 – a 32 percent increase from this time last year.

Local mother Kimberly Starr, who lives in Prosser, lost her son to suicide three years ago.

“We did not see the signs, there was no indication,” said Starr. “It’s frightening to know that you have this child who you think you’re talking with on a regular basis and think you have a strong relationship with that has been thinking about this and hasn’t told you as a parent.”

Starr’s son Tom was a 16-year-old junior at Prosser High School when he died by suicide on March 16, 2015. As a teenager, he enjoyed reading, writing and anime. He was also enrolled in the running start program at Yakima Valley College.

“He had a really broad range of interests and was just really a joyful child, a joyful young man,” said Starr. “He brought us a lot of laughter. Even in the days leading up to his death there was laughter and love in our home.”

Starr says when she and her husband looked back they were able to point out some subtle signs they had missed.

“In hindsight we did see that he was withdrawing,” she said. “We saw kind of a change in his eyes.”

She said Tom was also having trouble sleeping, and they learned that a few weeks before his death he had given away some of his personal possessions.

“My son was ill,” said Starr. “Had he been healthy, that would not have happened.”

Moving forward, Starr said she believes society needs to change its perception of suicide and mental illnesses.

“People who are struggling with depression and anxiety – these are mental illnesses,” she said. “It’s not that there was something that made them do it. Until we start representing depression and anxiety and suicide as what it truly is, which is a brain illness, there’s going to continue to be this stigma of, ‘well he was weak, he couldn’t handle life.'”

Starr said one way she deals with her grief is by helping families learn about suicide prevention and sharing her own story. She wrote a book called 457 Days: A Mother’s Journey Along Grief’s Path, where she detailed each day of her journey after her son’s death. Starr also speaks at suicide awareness events.

“As terrible as it is that we lost Tom, Tom is living on through others living on,” said Starr.

Starr will be speaking at a free suicide awareness event on June 27 at Kadlec Neurological Resource Center. For more information or to register for the event, click here.