NEW ALBANY, Ind. (AP) — Ryan Plamp was a good kid. The junior at Community Montessori in New Albany did well in school, hung out with the right crowd and never did illegal drugs.
Caring for animals and communing with nature were his passions. In almost every way, he defied the stereotype of what mental illness looks like.
Yet on March 4, 2010, Plamp took his own life. He was 16.
In the period following Plamp's death, his family and friends grieved for the boy they knew and loved.
Mourning a son who died from suicide is different from losing a child to cancer or other physical causes. People don't always know what to say due to an entrenched stigma. Our society doesn't like to talk about suicide. At times, some avoid the topic, while even a few may make assumptions about the victim that aren't always true.
Plamp's mother Stacie Wolfe faced these circumstances.
"People associated suicide with this stereotype of him in this very negative light. I think they picture a kid who never goes to school, who is on drugs," Wolfe told the News and Tribune (http://bit.ly/1nj2x2s ). "It wasn't how our child was at all. I thought, oh, my gosh! He's sick. He has been diagnosed with these illnesses. He has fought it for so long."
Having been treated for depression, Wolfe understood her son's illness. Since the age of 13, Plamp had said he wanted to die, even creating a plan to do it.
His mother immediately got him help. Doctors soon diagnosed him with bipolar disorder, a condition in which a patient's mental state may swing from euphoric highs to dark lows. Medicine was prescribed, as were hospital stays when necessary.
But a change occurred in Plamp before his last hospitalization just a few weeks prior to his death. A decision had been made.
"He straight up told me the day he went into the hospital, 'I'm going to say everything I need to say so I can get out of here and then I'm going to do it,'" Wolfe said. "Even though ultimately he died, we got four more years with him. And he did experience a lot of good things in those years, too, because we got him help."
Suicide doesn't just affect the person whose life it takes. The aftermath ripples throughout the community, touching lives who may not have even met the victim. While the impact spreads, few resources are readily available to those left behind.
Although initially able to cope with his loss, Wolfe started fully feeling her son's absence about six months after his death. The stages of grief — denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance — progress differently for each individual.
Luckily, when the hardest emotions came, Wolfe discovered the Louisville Chapter of Survivors of Suicide, a support group that helps survivors deal with the death of a loved one by suicide. At present, no chapters have been formed in southern Indiana, but the Charlestown resident wants to begin one in the future.
"That first year after I found out, that resource saved my life. Since so many people feel like they shouldn't ask you about it, I had a place I could go and talk about my son and no one thought it was odd," Wolfe said. "It's not only about losing a child. When you lose someone to suicide, you are dealing with all these other things. That meeting, the Survivors of Suicide, really helps because you feel like you're not alone."
For Wolfe and her sister, Cindy Ryan, just surviving Plamp's death wasn't enough. The two have since started sharing their story throughout the area in order to educate teenagers and adults about the realities of suicide and its prevention.
To remember her nephew, Ryan advocates for the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention and is chair of the Indiana Suicide Coalition's Southern Indiana District. Ridding the taboo that suicide should not be discussed openly is one of Ryan's main goals.
"It's all about education," she said. "And, being a survivor, you just have to reach out to people and talk about it."
Telling the public about warning signs remains a vital step in stopping suicides. Through the Indiana Suicide Coalition, Ryan helps distribute preventative materials to the community.
All middle school students in Clark County receive a survivor's pocket card and lifeline magnet in a packet at the beginning of the school year. A booth at the local 4-H Fair staffed by Indiana Suicide Prevention Coalition members also provides both materials and support.
In addition, Ryan plans on submitting a grant proposal so that survivor pamphlets may be given to area funeral homes, ensuring those left behind receive further information and resources.
"Once they know you're a survivor, you feel like you have an obligation to check on people that have had that happen in their family," Ryan said. "Even as open as we are, it still was a hard thing."
As the two continue to reach out to survivors, they have noticed positive outcomes of their work. More men, women and children have been affected by suicide than many Americans realize, and talking to them allows those left behind not to feel so isolated and alone. Remembering also allows Plamp to live on in their memories while trying to prevent others from suffering a similar fate.
"A death like this you want to think something good can come from it," Wolfe said. "That's my hope."
Information from: News and Tribune, Jeffersonville, Ind., http://www.newsandtribune.com