— Editor’s Note: The Villager is continuing to follow the story about the rising rates of suicides and attempted suicides in The Woodlands and surrounding areas. Our coverage includes occasional articles focused on raising awareness of the issue and seeking solutions to this community problem. We are interested in hearing about any events, education or inspiring tales to help illustrate this issue for readers.
More than 10 years ago, Angie Barnes was having a rough couple of months to say the least. But, she said she lost it when she attempted to commit suicide at her home near The Woodlands.
“I’ve always been a happy, positive person…but I really shut down,” Barnes said.
After having thyroid surgery in which the doctors accidentally removed her parathyroid glands that control a person’s calcium levels, Barnes went into respiratory and cardiac arrest. She spent about a month in the hospital’s intensive care unit, but the doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong.
“So, they loaded me up on a bunch of medication and sent me home,” Barnes said.
A few months later, her pregnant dog was hit by a car, and Barnes had to deal with the aftermath of that situation. Her and her husband decided that it was best for their children to live with their grandparents for a little bit while Barnes recovered.
The intense medication, coupled with her dog’s tragic death, led Barnes to begin isolating herself from her family and friends. One day, Barnes said she had it in her head that her husband wasn’t going to come back home.
“There was no planning, no thought. I was just thinking that my kids would be better off without me,” Barnes said.
So, in July of 2007, she went into her garage and took more than 500 pills. She called her best friend to tell her that she loved her and laid down in a thermal blanket. When her husband came home later that day, he found her swollen and unconscious.
Her husband took her to the hospital, where they immediately pumped her stomach, but Barnes said she was in a coma for a week.
“I woke up and there was nothing wrong with me. I realized that God had taken it all away to give me a new start,” Barnes said. “I took that much medicine and I tried to take my life, but I’m still here. If God’s not ready for you, then you’re not going anywhere.”
Barnes’ experience with suicide was somewhat out of the blue, as she said she hadn’t struggled with suicidal thoughts before. Now, though, she focuses on telling her story to help others — because she knows the life that she would have missed if her attempt had been successful.
Although not everyone has a story like Barnes, community members may know someone who has had similar struggles. Suicide awareness and prevention is a rising issue in The Woodlands.
As previously reported by The Villager, there were 115 suicides or attempted suicides in the community last year, which is an almost 50 percent increase from the 80 suicides or attempted suicides in 2017. According to Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace Wayne Mack, the Montgomery County suicide rate has increased by 80 percent since 2011.
That’s why area nonprofits, such as CareFORCE and Cassidy Joined for Hope are working to train both law enforcement personnel and students how to recognize suicidal tendencies in their peers and intervene appropriately.
That is exactly what is needed in this community, Barnes said.
“I feel like if your loved one is in that spot and struggling, you don’t back down,” Barnes said, adding that awareness is one of the most important pieces in solving this issue across the community.
That’s why she’s open about her own story.
“I’m honest with people. I have a wonderful life, but it’s not perfect. It’s easy to hide behind a computer and try to make life look perfect, but nobody’s life is perfect. Awareness is a huge thing,” Barnes said.
Later on in Barnes’ life, she worked as an office manager for Elizabeth Felthous, a licensed professional counselor who owns a private practice in Conroe.
Felthous said she saw Barnes use her story as a catalyst for empathy.
“Whenever you personally have experienced depression or mental health, you have a lot more empathy for those who are struggling,” Felthous said. She added that making suicide a safe topic of conversation is important in today’s society.
The thing Barnes wants people to know, above all, is that their lives matter.
“You are important to someone. Someone will miss you; someone cares about you. No matter what kind of trouble you’re in, your life is important,” Barnes said.