Avera Medical Minute: Advocating for suicide awareness after loss

Published: Nov. 13, 2023 at 9:32 PM CST
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - A local family is raising awareness of suicide prevention, after losing a member of their own. Gary Gaspar, a community and business leader in Sioux Falls, died by suicide in March of 2022.

His family is turning their grief into a mission of encouraging others who may be struggling with their mental health to seek help.

“Gary dealt with a lot of invisible physical health issues — he had developed peripheral neuropathy, which is pain and tingling in extremities. It’s usually caused by something like diabetes or another medical condition that he didn’t have, and so he put himself through batteries of tests and consulting with a lot of different doctors to try to find what the issue was, and they couldn’t find a root cause,” said Gary’s son, James Gaspar. “Not being able to solve the problem was pretty debilitating to him, and he began to develop depression and anxiety because of his physical health issues.”

“We are one person, meaning our mental health and physical health go hand in hand, so when we are not physically feeling well, mentally we will not feel well,” said Veronica Radigan, a psychiatrist with Avera Medical Group.

“He was worried what friends would think or family would think, and so he was very private about the issues he was dealing with. It began with his physical health issues, and it quickly turned into mental health issues, and ultimately, it led to his suicide,” said James Gaspar.

“I don’t think that suicide is a choice. Depression and anxiety drive people to very dark places, and the decision is not something that they choose in a conscious state of mind,” said Gaspar.

“A lot of people struggle with suicidal thoughts. They will have them, but often the act itself, when they attempt or complete suicide, is an impulsive decision, meaning that they hadn’t been planning this for days or weeks, but it was in the moment. Literally that thought came to their head, and then they followed through with completing minutes or hours later,” said Radigan.

“After going through that experience and that suicide loss and coming out the other side, I don’t want anyone else to ever feel that feeling of shame and loss, that their loved one did something wrong,” said Gaspar.

“The more people we have advocating, talking about mental health, does help destigmatize, and I think allows others to even feel comfortable reaching out for help,” said Radigan.

“Gary would have wanted his story to save others, and we knew we needed to tell his story. I really want suicide loss survivors to know that there is support for them, that this community will lift them up and hold them up and make sure they are okay,” said Gaspar.

If you think someone is showing signs of suicide, one thing you can do is ask the question, “Are you thinking about suicide?” Dialing 988 is another resource where people can be connected with a specialist who is trained to offer support to anyone experiencing a crisis.

For more information on warning signs of suicide or resources, visit avera.org/medicalminute.