JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - It's a silent killer, one of the leading causes of death in Northeast Florida.
Suicide claims more than twice as many lives as homicide, according to Florida's medical examiners' records. One of the main factors behind suicide is depression.
As the holidays approach, a Jacksonville woman, who's not ashamed to talk about her dark battle with depression and the day she tried to end her life, is hoping to raise awareness of the problems.
"The way that (depression) hit me, I never thought that it would, it kind of left me dysfunctional," recalled Leigha Krivacek. "I couldn't function. I would never get out of my bed. I didn't want to be here. I had really bad thoughts."
The 25-year-old remembers when her depression was at its worst. She was diagnosed at age 23, when it seemed everything in her life was going well.
"When my doctors first got to know me, they said, 'Well, tell me about yourself.' I said, 'Well, I just moved from Pittsburgh a few years ago, graduated college, started a career, started my life really.'"
She had a good family, close friends and an office job.
Still, she couldn't escape the darkness. A mental illness was swallowing up everything she'd worked so hard for.
"The fact that I had those thoughts was just odd to me," Krivacek said. "Like, 'why don't I want to be here? Why do I think that I am such a burden that the world would be a better place without me?' I was so low that I just thought, 'I don't need to be here.'"
Then came her darkest hour. In April 2013, inside her Jacksonville Beach apartment, Krivacek tried to kill herself.
"And my boyfriend found me and decided to Baker Act me," she said.
It's a story told again and again. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that 1 in 10 Americans suffers from depression. That depression many times leads to suicide, which is the third-leading cause of death for young people between 15 and 24 years old.
Liz Colavecchio, the Northeast Florida chairwoman of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, is concerned.
"We are seeing a rise (in all types of suicide) in the area," she told News4Jax. "I'm not sure if people are just being more aware of it or if it's just being reported more but we do see numbers going up."
Last year, 2,892 Floridians took their own lives, and state records show Nassau and St. Johns Counties have some of the highest suicide rates in Florida.
"Ninety percent of people that die by suicide do suffer from a diagnosable mental illness at the time of their death," Colavecchio said. "Most often it might be depression."
Psychologists, psychiatrists and counselors are on high alert.
"We all have our good days and our bad days," said Jamie Mericle, director of Community Mental Health for Daniel Kids. "But when sadness lingers on more than a day or two and it's affecting our functioning at home and at school, it is time for a parent or a loved one to get that person help."
Mericle said loved ones should watch for certain warning signs.
"Finding that someone is withdrawing from family and friends, suddenly losing interest in things that they once had interest in, so sports or hobbies or school," Mericle said. "If they are talking a lot about dying or giving away some of their prized possessions."
After nearly losing her life in April, Krivacek said she got serious about getting the help she needed, realizing depression wasn't a battle she could win alone. She spent time in the hospital, visited psychiatrists and therapists, even went through a procedure called Transcranial magnetic stimulation, or TMS (pictured). TMS is a fairly new therapy designed to stimulate parts of the brain to treat depression.
This survivor has a strong message for others like her.
"Just raise your hand," Krivacek said. "Get help. Go see a doctor. Go to a facility. Join a support group. No matter what it is, it's OK to speak. Do not be ashamed. Do not be embarrassed."
Krivacek now lives in Riverside and is working again at a boutique. She continues to get treatment for depression, saying she has a close relationship with her doctor and therapist. But she is most thankful for the support her family, friends and boyfriend have given her.
"You do belong here in this world, this beautiful world that we live in," said Krivacek. "You are someone very beautiful and special, and you need to believe that."
In Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia, there are numerous resources for people dealing with depression or thinking about suicide.
If someone is in immediate danger of taking his or her life, call 911.
The United Way offers a support hotline -- dial 211 to receive free assistance.
There is also a suicide prevention hotline available 24/7 toll free at 1-800-273-TALK(8255). Callers' information will remain confidential.
More information about the signs of suicide and depression is available at http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
For a complete list of resources available in the area, visit http://www.floridasuicideprevention.org/resources.htm.
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