'To Save One Life' spotlights mental health, ways to help those suffering

Death of Todd Tongen shines light on suicide prevention awareness

PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. – Every year in the U.S., more than 41,000 people take their own lives.  

In early June, Todd Tongen, a member of the Local 10 family for 30 years, made that fatal and final decision.

"I was truly stunned when I learned of my brother's death," his older brother, Scott Tongen, told Local 10 News.

During a celebration of life service on June 8, Scott read from a posthumous letter he'd written to Todd.

"No one knows what demons you were fighting because you didn't tell us," he read.


In fact, experts claim people contemplating suicide often don't express their intentions.

"Some people make the decision to kill themselves within five minutes. I mean, it's that fast," Dr. Claudia Vicencio, clinical supervisor for Memorial Healthcare System's Outpatient Behavioral Health Center, said. "A lot of the studies show that people aren't planning for a long time."

Scott Tongen believed that was the case with Todd.

"We're convinced you did not plan this because as there were just too many signs and plans that we were making for your future activities," he read from his letter.

That leaves many wondering, if there are no outward signs, what can really be done to prevent suicide?

Below is a list of some suicide prevention resources:

"We start by being aware of who's at high risk," Vicencio said. "We know that middle-aged white males right now are the ones that have the highest risk for suicide. They have the highest spikes."

Vicencio said 54% of the people who die of suicide have no mental health diagnosis, although many may be silently suffering from depression and anxiety.

"So looking for some outward signs and changes in mood, how they take care of themselves, could be something as well," she said.

Vicencio added that if anything seems out of the ordinary with a friend or family member, don't be afraid to have a conversation with them.

"There's this idea that if you ask somebody about suicide that you're going to make them suicidal. That's not the case," she said. "So, very clearly, just have an open-ended question, 'Hey, I'm worried about you. Are you thinking about hurting yourself? Are you thinking about killing yourself?"

If an answer of "no" is unconvincing, share those concerns with those closest to the person, because every effort made could prevent a deadly decision and the pain it leaves behind.

"Maybe you felt the world would be better off without you, that Karen or your sons would soldier on. You were wrong, little brother," Scott Tongen read. "Nothing you can imagine was worth this conclusion, Todd. Nothing." 

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