ABC News 4 goes beneath the surface on mental illness, suicides

The number of suicides in the tricounty area has risen 30 percent in the last five years. In Berkeley County alone, the number has doubled in that time.

Those stats don't include the number of people who have attempted or considered suicide.

The question is, "why?" In a one-hour special broadcast, we addressed the issues of suicide and mental illness in the Lowcountry.

The connections between mental illness and suicide cannot be ignored. Those who have taken their lives or attempted to have dealt with a wide range of issues and emotions. Friends and family members left behind are also impacted.

Among the issues that lead to suicide or develop from a suicide, experts say, are eating disorders, depression and drug abuse. Warning signs can often fly under the radar.

Deryn Hannapel said she and her sister were close. She had no idea her sister was in such a dark place. She had no warning she would lose her sister so early in life.

"It's something that I would have never thought in a million years," Deryn said. "I remember looking over and it taking a second or two to register kind of what I was seeing."

When Deryn saw her sister hanging off the floor, she froze.

"I remember thinking maybe this has just happened and we can get her down and resuscitate her," she said.

But the young woman was gone, and she left Deryn numb and feeling like a chunk of her was missing. Nearly six years have passed since that day, and Deryn still doesn't understand.

"Obviously after everything I do sometimes think what could I have seen? What could I have done differently? But, at the same time, it was so out of the blue. I still now thing sometimes, 'how did this happen?'"

It's a similar story for teen mom Morgan Dudley. A photo of her and her son Hudson went viral last year. It was taken as they looked up at the Fort Dorchester football locker of Hudson's father Nick Dedrick.

Morgan says she now feels alone. Nick took his life when Hudson was 3-months-old. The last thing he said to Morgan was, "tell Hudson I love him."

"I feel I think as Nick did a lot of times. I feel like I'd rather not be here than try to live another day, because it's hard," Morgan said.

She said not having Nick kills her every day, and while she doesn't have answers, she has come to an understanding. She finds happiness in Hudson.

"I just have to remind myself that when he did it, he wasn't thinking that he was going to hurt people around him. He thought he was going to help us. He just couldn't handle it, and I'm not mad at him for that. I'm not mad at him for wanting his pain to stop," Morgan said.

How do you fight an invisible illness?

Emily Torchiana has been working on a platform where people feel comfortable sharing issues often not discussed. Her website is a place for people to open up without judgement.

"You can be going to work, going to class. You could be hanging out with friends and dealing with all these issues inside but they’re not seen,” she said.

More than 100 people have logged on to share stories about depression and thoughts of suicide. Emily says the first step is talking and getting help.

"I know it’s not easy, but once you do take that step to get help, you’re on the right path and you will see a future,” she said.

She said creating the website, The Invisible Illnesses, has been her own therapy -- a reminder there is so much left to live for.

"I know that my purpose is to hopefully help others know that they have worth and know that they’re here for a reason and know that this world would not be the same if they weren’t in it,” she said.

Local licensed counselor Tina Arnoldi agrees that talking about invisible illnesses is the first step in preventing suicide.

"I don't think we've gotten where we need to be in terms of stigma," Arnoldi said. "So if someone can't talk about being depressed or being anxious or having some other issue like that, if they can't even talk about basic mental health, they can't talk about 'I'm so bad that I'm considering suicide.'"

Not having an outlet or feeling accepted are emotions a lot of people in the LGBT community face. Arnoldi has been a counselor for years and says the number of suicides in that community are rising.

Local mental heath experts working with veterans, those with eating disorders and patients with substance abuse issues also report concerns. But they also share positive stories due to resources made available.

For example, The Friedman Center located at MUSC has only been open since June. But those who work at the clinic are already seeing the impact they're having on the community.

"Family based treatment has the most empirical support for its use with adolescents with eating disorders particularly anorexia," said Friedman Center director Renee Rienecke. "When people get early intervention and effective treatment, their chances for recovery are really pretty good."

Local addiction counselor Megan Provost has witnessed people stuck in the dark. She said as long as a person is still breathing, there is a chance at recovery.

"I've seen people at the beginning of their addiction and people towards the end of it. If you're still breathing there is still a chance to get help and there are a lot of resources in the community that help with addiction," she said.

The Ralph Johnson Veteran's Hospital has been a resource in the Lowcountry for years. The hospital regularly deals with veterans who struggle to make the transition back to civilian life. Dr. Mark DeSantis is the suicide prevention coordinator at the hospital, and while numbers in the area have been on the rise, he said the hospital has has saved lives of men and women returning home from war zones and the military way of life.

"We've actually had some of our veterans come back to us and state that if it wasn't for what we've been able to do with them, they would have taken their life," Dr. DeSantis said.

From 2007 to 2016, data from the National Crisis Line shows about 68,000 rescues occurred from the Veterans Crisis Line.

For information on the Veterans Crisis Line and other resources, scroll to the bottom of this article.

An ABC News 4 analysis of Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester counties shows:

-616 total suicides in all three counties from 2011 to 2016.

-Suicides in all three counties in were up 30 percent in 2016 since 2011.

-Berkeley County suicides doubled from 20 in 2011 to 40 in 2016.

-Since 2012, males outnumber females by a rate of nearly 4 to 1 in all three counties. (407 to 120) ... the national rate is 3.5 times more often than women females nationally attempt suicide three times more often than males.

-26 teenager suicides in Charleston and Dorchester Counties from 2012 to 2016. (Berkeley County doesn’t have teen breakdown)

-The average age of suicide victims in Charleston County in 2016 was 41. 78 percent were white. 6 were between the ages of 15-19.

-56 percent of suicides in Charleston County in 2016 were from firearms. That number is 55 percent in Berkeley County. (National rate is about 50 percent).

-The average age of suicide victims in Dorchester county in 2016 was 43. Four were between the ages of 15 and 17. (No racial breakdown)

-56 percent of suicide victims in Berkeley County in 2016 were over the age of 40.

South Carolina stats (Source: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention)

-More than twice as many people die by suicide in SC each year than homicide

-On average, one person dies by suicide every 11.5 hours in South Carolina.

-Suicide is the No. 1 leading cause of death in SC for children between ages of 10 and 14

-It’s the second leading cause of death for ages 25 to 34

-Third leading cause of death for ages 15-24

-In 2015, South Carolina ranked 25th among all states in suicide rate.

National stats

-Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death

-Each year more than 44,000 Americans die by suicide.

-An average of 121 suicides a day.

-Firearms account for nearly 50 percent of all suicides

-The rate of suicide is highest in middle age, white men in particular.

-Females attempt suicide three times more often than males.

Important numbers/resources

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Suicide Prevention Resource Center
State resource search -
South Carolina hotlines -

North Charleston Suicide Prevention
Hotline: (843) 744-4357
Toll Free Statewide: 1-800-922-2283

(843) 747-TEEN or (843) 747-8336
Toll Free Statewide: 1-800-273-8255

Veteran Helpline
Chesapeake Health Education Program:
Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255 Press 1
VeteransCrisisLine.Net or text 838255

For substance abuse
Charleston Center (843) 958-3300
MUSC programs:
Other local resources:

Eating disorders
NEDA ( National Eating Disorder Association)
Friedman Center for Eating Disorders-MUSC:

LGBT community outreach
We are Family:
Palmetto Transgender Association:

Counseling needs
Megan Provost:
Tina Arnoldi:

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