Published on July 18, 2016

Climbing out of a black hole with “A Second Chance”Climbing out of a black hole with “A Second Chance”

The Cape contractor was having a health and financial crisis and turned to what he thought was the only solution.

He tried to kill himself.

“The harder I worked, the behinder I got,” said Dave, 65, who lives in Chatham but asked that his last name not be published.

“I panicked. … My family had no idea what was going on. I could leave my emotions at the door when I walked in and then I’d take them out of the milk crate when I walked out the door. It just mushroomed. And I ended up in a black hole that I couldn’t get out. Seemed like there was only one way out that would be the best for everybody.”

Despite horrific injuries and being in a coma for two days, he survived his 2014 suicide attempt and now considers himself lucky. But, despite receiving what he considers good psychiatric care, Dave still continued to struggle.

Then he found understanding, support and hope through A Second Chance. It’s a new peer group started by The Samaritans on Cape Cod and the Islands, the suicide-prevention organization founded by Monica Dickens, the great-granddaughter of the famous author.

The Samaritans is perhaps best known for the signs on the Cape bridges advertising its suicide prevention hotline, staffed by 85 trained volunteers. But in its almost 40-year history, the Falmouth-based organization’s mission has expanded from prevention to support. It runs drop-in groups, Safe Place, for families and friends of those who have committed suicide. It distributes “care packages” that include journals and other resources to people who have lost someone to suicide but might not be ready to join a group. It runs Senior Outreach for older people who get a weekly check-in and conversation from a volunteer.

A Battle Against the Darkness

A Second Chance started last year.

It’s a battle of hope against the darkness of mental illness, with the weapon being nonjudgmental listening. Talking about suicide has traditionally been taboo, particularly around those who have survived an attempt. Loved ones and even mental health practitioners fear triggering another attempt. Families and friends remain angry over what feels like a betrayal. Suicide survivors are isolated in their agony.

“The truth is that people who have had a trauma need to talk about it,” said Jeff House of Plymouth, a peer mentor with A Second Chance. “That’s Psychology 101. They have to talk about it with someone or they can’t even heal.”

House knows this truth all too well.

Now 53 and a data analyst, he tried to kill himself at the age of 16. He and Kathleen Shine-O’Brien, a licensed mental health counselor who helped Massachusetts Maritime Academy start its suicide prevention program, lead the eight-week groups. Meetings are closed, not drop-in. Dave was one of two men who joined the first group last year.

He found strength in hearing the stories of Jeff and the other participant. And when The Samaritans organized another group last fall, he went to that one, too.