Kari Jorgensen broke numerous records wearing a Fresno State basketball jersey. She fulfilled her dream of playing basketball with a full-ride scholarship at an NCAA Division One school. She overcame dyslexia. She wanted to teach and coach basketball.
This young woman’s life was cut short when she committed suicide in January of 1996.
Carolyn Brown, Jorgensen’s mother, spoke at Fresno State Thursday afternoon in a workshop coordinated by the newly established Suicide Prevention Program.
She describes the night she found her daughter with descriptive images: dark January sky, damp ground and cold air. Music blaring from a stereo, the telephone, a wine bottle and glass.
“Kari had so many of the signs and symptoms,” Brown said.
In hindsight she sees the signs leading up to her daughter’s suicide: a sense of restlessness, taking risks like walking home at night through neighborhoods thought to be dangerous. Kari’s sleeping and eating habits changed drastically and she seemed preoccupied with death. Looking back, she sees that Kari was suffering from depression.
Brown spoke at the University Student Union to over 100 students about the need for depression awareness as a means of suicide prevention.
“ My daughter didn’t die from some disease you couldn’t cure,” Brown said. “She didn’t die from some cancer they couldn’t cure. She died from something that was preventable.”
In 2009 the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reported 3,823 suicides in California for that year. The national number totaled 36,909 suicides. According to the National Institute of Mental Health the at-risk factors for suicide are mental disorders such as depression, a family history of depression and suicide, and substance abuse.
Through the grant provided by the California Mental Health Services Act, Fresno State Student Health and Psychological Services has established the Suicide Prevention Program. This program coordinates events and workshops like the one held Thursday. These workshops focus on the need to understand the warning signs often preceding suicide and educating people about the link between mental health and suicide.
Melissa Watkins, the Suicide Prevention Program coordinator, said, “It’s not just about suicide. It’s all those other things that really push a person to that point of making a decision to commit suicide.”
According to the Mayo Clinic the warning signs of suicide are depression, a preoccupation with death and dying, giving away possessions, changes in personality, seeming to have a suicide plan, feelings of hopelessness, abuse of a controlled substance and change in sleeping and eating pattern.
Dr. Gena Gechter is the coordinator of psychological services at the Student Health Center. She has been working at Fresno State since the mid-1980s. In her work she has helped many students with depression. Through her experience Gechter sees the need for more awareness in regards to the symptoms of depression and suicidal tendencies.
“You can’t tell by looking at someone if they are suicidal and having suicidal feeling and thoughts,” Gechter said.
Gechter continued to say that the professionals working in psychological services always evaluate for suicidal tendencies when working with those receiving help with disorders such as depression.
Fresno State’s Student Health Center does sponsor events meant to help those with depression. One such event is the National Depression Screening Day, held this year on Oct. 11. At this free screening both students and community members can find out, in a private manner, whether or not they show signs of depression or other mental and mood disorders like anxiety. In the case that a student shows such signs, the Student Health Center provides resources including individual counseling, personal growth groups and psychiatric services.
If a student believes a friend or family member is contemplating suicide, Gechter insists the best way to help them is to talk with them about their concerns and seek assistance from professionals.
Gechter said, “We always emphasize not feeling like you’re intruding on someone’s life.”