CIRCLEVILLE - A tragic discovery at Westfall Middle School on Tuesday highlights the importance of suicide awareness, prevention and local treatment options.
According to the Pickaway County Sheriff's Office, the body of a 52-year-old Columbus woman was found in her vehicle in the parking lot at Westfall Middle School about 7:24 a.m. Tuesday. Her death by self-inflicted gunshot wound was ruled a suicide by Dr. John Ellis, Pickaway County Coroner.
"She had absolutely no connection to the school or to this county, for that matter," said Lt. Dale Parish, Pickaway County Sheriff's Office. "In talking with her family members, they said she had a tendency to wander, just get in the car and drive. That's apparently what she did on Monday and just ended up in the parking lot at Westfall."
The Westfall Local School District had already dismissed for summer break, so students were not on the scene on Tuesday. The victim was discovered by a faculty member, Parish said. Investigators have not been able to determine her exact time of death but believe it was sometime overnight on Monday.
Parish said the incident is a tragic example of a situation law enforcement and rescue crews deal with every day.
"In this day and age, there are many, many different pressures on people," he said. "We see it more and more, and we're answering calls on attempted suicides quite often. I think we've had two already just this week."
Parish said there is no way to know exactly what prompted this particular victim's suicide, but often people unsuccessfully try to find a rational explanation for irrational behavior.
"When someone is distraught to that level, sometimes they don't have the ability or the inclination to reach out for the help that's out there," he said.
Locally, that help can come through the Scioto Paint Valley Mental Health Center on Morris Road. Its clinic director, Vince Yaniga, said suicide is still an uncomfortable topic for many people, but it is important to take action in cases where a loved one does show sudden behavioral changes or begins talking about harming themselves, which he estimates happens about 75 percent of the time.
"When someone starts talking about harming themselves, people sometimes think the person might just be blowing off steam or just having a bad day, and nobody checks it out," he said. "They may just assume tomorrow will be better and they won't be talking about it anymore."
Yaniga said pseudo-suicidal comments are particularly troubling and can be a clear indicator of distress. Such comments would include things like, "I wish I could just get in my car and drive forever," or "I'd like to just fall asleep and never wake up."
"Many times, a person will come to the conclusion that family and friends will be better off with them dead than alive," Yaniga said. "A lot of people who do complete suicide see it as sacrificing themselves for their family members. It's illogical thinking, and the survivors will have to deal with that for the rest of their lives, but that's often the thought process."
Other possible clues of suicidal thoughts are when a person starts giving away their prized possessions or pets, he said. For teenagers, it can be things like changes in grades, changes in friends and isolating themselves more than usual.
If someone suspects a loved one is contemplating suicide, Yaniga said they should be urged to seek treatment from Scioto Paint Valley Mental Health or through a private practice.
"If it's acute, we recommend the person be taken to the emergency room by squad, and the hospital will call us to evaluate," Yaniga said. "Another option would be to call the police or sheriff's department and ask them to do a wellness check and see if they're OK. If they are, the officers will ask if they would like to talk to someone at the mental health center. Those are all things we have done."
Scioto Paint Valley also has a crisis hotline that is available 24 hours a day, 365 days per year. That local number is 740-477-2579.
For non-emergencies, the clinic can be reached at 740-474-8874.