He was super cute – who could resist the blond hair, freckles and goofy smile.
Funny, hip, happy and popular. Evan Schwantner was all that and more -- a Washington state high school champion runner and artistically gifted.
But in his senior year in high school, everything changed. Evan lost interest in running, his passion since childhood. He went off to college, but returned home.
Erin Schwantner watched in despair as her beloved brother’s life spiraled into deep depression, and then ended when he killed himself in 2010, two weeks shy of his 21st birthday.
“Looking back, I can clearly see what I should have done differently” says Erin, a communication manager at Providence Health & Services. “I had many misconceptions about suicide.”
“It’s amazing what we as a society don’t know about suicide and mental illness. We say things like ‘Funny, happy people don’t kill themselves,’ or ‘It doesn’t make sense. They were always making people smile.’ “
In 2013, the most recent year for which data are available, more than 41,000 people took their lives in the US. Tragically, suicide is the third-leading cause of death among youth.
Sept. 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day, and the International Association for Suicide Prevention is asking everyone to reach out to those who are struggling and may be thinking of suicide.
Since Evan’s death, Erin has been on a journey to honor her brother’s life and help prevent suicide. She’s gone from feeling guilty for not fully understanding her brother’s depression to creating a blog called 4 the Love of Evan and a media watchdog group to educate reporters on safe reporting about suicide.
Erin has partnered with Providence to create awareness and training for caregivers, support for survivors of suicide loss and sponsorship of Out of the Darkness walks. She also has served on the board of directors for the Washington state chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, has raised thousands of dollars with her parents for suicide awareness and prevention, and has trained others to be aware of suicide warning signs as a certified safeTALK trainer.
What to look for
What can the rest of us do to prevent suicide? First, know the warning signs:
- Changes in behavior, including isolating from family and friends, withdrawing from activities and increased use of alcohol or drugs
- Help the person connect to a crisis clinic, doctor or counselor.
“Everyone can help prevent suicide,” Erin says. “All of us, working together to do these things, can help save a life.”
And for those who are struggling, she has this message: “Please ask for help. We are all vulnerable and we all need help at different points in our lives. You don’t have to go through difficult and painful experiences alone.”
If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1 800 273-TALK (8255). Trained counselors are available 24/7.
If you are not in immediate danger but would like help finding a counselor to talk to, ask your health care provider.