With the 10th leading cause of death in America being suicide, the topic is gaining attention as a major public heath concern. Suffocation is the second most common method and with several bridges around Southeast Texas, a fair share of suicide attempts have been made by people jumping off the side. A Hardin County woman who has jumped off a highway bridge is speaking out and sharing where she found the strength and tools to find purpose in her life.
“I'd walk to the Village Creek and I would just dive in,” said Rita Dyson. “I said maybe just once, one of these limbs or something will catch me.”
Dyson grew up in Hardin County. She says the first time she remembers attempting suicide, she was just 7 years old.
“God knows how may times I've tried and how many different ways.” said Dyson.
Struggling through school, Dyson continued attempting suicide into her adult life. She says jumping from a highway bridge into Village Creek was a method she tried several times. When she would surface above the water, still alive, many emotions would pour over her but one thought in her mind was louder than the rest.
"In your mind you're like, you're a failure,” said Dyson. “You failed at this, you failed at that and now you even failed and you can't even do this right.”
Dyson says no one ever knew of her attempts at Village Creek. Many people don't realize how often this happens in Southeast Texas. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows the top three methods used in suicides are firearms, suffocation and poisoning.
Jumping from a bridge often falls under the category of suffocation and with the prevalence of bridges in the Southeast Texas, it can be a relatively common occurrence. Still, that data can be hard to track since many bridges are covered by multiple law enforcement agencies. Orange county estimates there's been nine jumpers from the Rainbow bridge since 2009. Port Arthur reports seven over the past five years and Jefferson County has been out to the Purple Heart Memorial Bridge or the Rainbow Bridge 12 times over the last five years for the same reasons.
“I was tired of just basically existing,” said Dyson. “I wasn’t living, I was existing.”
Dyson says after decades of being in such a hopeless state, she found hope. After a severe panic attack a few years ago, a Lumberton firefighter told her about Spindeltop. It's a mental health center with services stretching into Jefferson, Orange, Hardin and Chambers counties. There she found a reason to live. Dyson was diagnosed with depression but now she has access to therapy options, medication, even housing through the programs offered at Spindletop. She says the best thing she's gained is support.
“Now I'm starting to see that I'm actually do matter to people,” said Dyson.
One of her mentors, Gary, who works at Spindletop says every path to recovery is different but overcoming years of substance abuse, says he’s living proof it’s attainable.
"Your diagnosis doesn't define you as a human being."
Many of the employees at Spindletop are former clients and shared with Dyson that she's not alone in her fight to find peace in life.
"I've had my bouts with drug addiction. I've lived in abandoned houses. I went day's without eating, bathing,” said Tina Simpson-Perry. “[I had] feelings of Hopelessness, thoughts of suicide. Really dark times."
Simpson-Perry works at Spindletop. She says her experience makes for a powerful connection with those still struggling to find purpose.
“We’ve all made some bad choices but as long as you’re alive, you always have an opportunity to make the changes that you need,” said Simpeons-Perry. “If you give up on today, you never know what's going to happen tomorrow.”
Spindletop served over 4,500 Southeast Texans in 2014 alone. Thousands more struggle daily with demons but don't even realize there is help.
“That's only where the crazy people go. You hear that a lot but we're not crazy we have an issue,” said Dyson. “We're learning to understand that issue and how to make it better.”
Dyson says she's sharing her story to show that those battling mental illness can still be part of society and how easy it is to find help.
“You need to make that step. Put one foot forward,” said Dyson. We got you. We got your back, we're standing behind you and if you start to fall back, we will catch you.”
Spindletop Center offers behavioral health care services to people with mental illness, intellectual and developmental disabilities and chemical dependency. They serve those in all walks of life, from the homless to those able to use full coverage insurance.
- To call their Crisis Hotline 24/7 dial: (409) 838-1818 or 1-800-937-8097
- Click here to visit Spindletop Center’s website: http://www.stmhmr.org/MHMR_MH.html
- To make an appointment to see if Spindletop can help meet your needs call: (409) 839-1002 or 1-800-937-8097