'Never in a million years did I think my child would be susceptible'

PLEASANT HILL, Ore. - Darlene Baker lost her 16-year-old daughter Jennifer Baker to suicide 15 years ago.

"I was one of those who thought 'not my kid' because she was an only child," Baker said. "I was very active in her life and she was very active in school.

"She was a multisport athlete, played club volleyball - so never in a million years did I think my child would be susceptible to depression," Baker told KVAL News from her office at Lane Community College.

According to a public health report, about one person commits suicide in Lane County every week. Baker wants to use her own tragedy to help save other mothers from the same fate.

Baker said her daughter killed herself with one of the family's guns on a Monday.

She said the Thursday before died, Jennifer left a note at school that was not taken seriously by her high school classmates.

Baker said she blamed herself.

"How could I be her mother and not catch it? How could I be that close to her and not catch it? How did I not see the signs?"

Unfortunately, Jennifer Baker's story is not an uncommon one in Lane County.

According to a county report from 2003-2010 the yearly number of suicides in Lane County has ranged from 54 to 70 - amounting to an average of 60 per year or at least one per week.

"Many times that thought of suicide is a fleeting thought, and if we can help that person see other options and support them along their recovery, we can make a difference and save lives," said Lane Count Suicide Prevention coordinator Sandy Moses.

Moses said suicide is as much an Oregon problem as it is a Lane County problem.

According to a 2012 Oregon Health Report, the suicide rate in the state is 41 percent higher than the national average.

"Unfortunately, the rate is about the same in Lane County," said Moses.

The most frequent risk factors cited by the report were mental health problems, alcohol, substance abuse and depression.

Baker said for many years she lived with weight of her guilt in isolation. She said there were very few places she could go for help in Lane County.

"It's not like losing someone to cancer," she said. "It's not like losing someone to even a violent crime like murder or a car accident-it's not the same."

But in 2003, Baker formed her own support group-the Jennifer Baker Fund-to help friends and families of suicide victims, to raise awareness and to get the community talking.

"I don't want anyone else to have to be in the position that I am in, and I was in that position because I didn't know," she said.

From May 12 through May 18, Lane County Public Health is honoring volunteers for National Prevention Week, and Baker was given an award for her work as the co-chair of the Lane County Suicide Prevention Steering Committee.