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Clemons: Through friend's grief, we see hope and a lesson
Alabama's attorney general gets candid about death of wife by suicide
Marshall Family
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall celebrates on election night Tuesday, June 5, 2018, in Montgomery, Ala. He's flanked by his wife, Bridgette, left, and daughter, Faith, right.

BOAZ, Ala. — Friends, relatives and even politicians came to say goodbye Friday to the wife of Alabama’s attorney general.

My friend Steve Marshall lost his wife, Bridgette, last Sunday. As his office described it that she had lost a long battle with mental illness.

Steve is in the midst of running for a full term as Alabama’s top prosecutor, and that’s a nasty business. I spoke with him Wednesday morning and he was heartbroken over the loss of his wife — obviously — and also disappointed he would have to face reporters within hours to discuss the circumstances of his wife’s death rather than focus on the life she lived.

But he did it well. Steve said he hopes people will come to understand the person Bridgette was and the problems that led to her awful choice a week ago.

She suffered debilitating migraines for much of her life. Doctors prescribed one opioid, then another. For someone already struggling with depression, it became a toxic mix.

Steve though wanted people to know there is no shame in asking for help with mental illness.

“It is our hope today to share our story to also give strength to those families who have endured what we have endured,” Steve said. “And maybe for that person who felt like Bridgette did on Sunday morning to know that there is hope and there are people who love them.”

My industry has struggled with how to discuss mental health and suicide. It’s always a sensitive topic, and now we’ve seen it front and center with the high-profile deaths of Kate Spade, then Anthony Bourdain, by suicide.

Fortunately, at home in Newton County and across Georgia, we have a network standing by to help.

Jennifer Wilds, the system of care administrator for View Point Health and chairman of the Newton-Rockdale Suicide Prevention Coalition, said the state has an “amazing” crisis and access line available 24/7.

“They can help connect people to a mental health resource, wherever they are in the state,” Wilds said.

“They have staff that live and work in this area. They can be available to navigate a crisis over the phone, or come out to a location … wherever somebody is that’s in crisis.”

Wilds said if there’s an immediate need for help, when someone is threatening suicide, the best response is to call 911. The Georgia Crisis and Access Line may be reached at 800-715-4225.

For people who just want to take the first step to addressing a mental health issue, View Point Health has walk-up hours.

“You can walk in, open access,” Wilds said. That’s available from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m. Monday through Thursday and from 8 a.m. until 1 p.m. on Friday at 8201 Hazelbrand Road NE in Covington.

Wilds said the spate of high-profile deaths by suicide in the past few weeks have raised awareness of the problem and gotten people thinking about loved ones who might be at risk, even though it’s too soon to have hard data on the impact.

“I think the awareness and the discussions have been generated over the past couple of years and people have been interested in talking about it,” she said. “It definitely raises conversations at multiple levels.”

If you don’t take anything else from this, remember what my friend Steve said about the problem that claimed his wife, Faith’s mother. Mental illness, he said, is “not a sign of weakness, let’s make that clear. Nobody wants to be mentally ill.”

Get help, and if you see someone around you struggling, get help for him or her.

David Clemons is the editor and publisher of The Covington News. His email address is Twitter: @scoopclemons.

Get Help

If you have an immediate emergency, call 911. The Georgia Crisis and Access Line is 800-715-4225.

Warning signs of suicide:

  • Talking about wanting to die
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious, agitated, or recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Displaying extreme mood swings

What to do:

  • Do not leave the person alone
  • Remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs, or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt
  • Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
  • Take the person to an emergency room, or seek help from a medical or mental health professional