HOLMBERG: Richmond woman who lost 5 family members to suicide now on a mission

Posted at 12:19 AM, Sep 13, 2013
and last updated 2013-09-13 10:55:13-04

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) - I felt chills as I read the suicide note of 16-year-old Jackson Ramsey, a former Hermitage High School student who shot himself to death in 2010 after quietly suffering from depression and, likely, psychosis.

His long note, addressed to anyone who would care, said he knew he had a crushing mental illness and he wanted to kill himself and get it over with because he knew he wouldn’t make it in the long run.

He was a tall, popular young man who had recently reunited with his father. His mom, Shirley Ramsey, said Jackson had  “brilliantly” hidden how deeply he was suffering from depression. A female friend talking on the phone with him that night became alarmed and got her mother on the line to talk with Jackson as police rushed to his house. They got there too late.

Jackson was the fifth close relative in his family to die by their own hands.

Shirley Ramsey said she was a little girl when she and her brother came home from school and found their mother gone. She had drowned herself in a nearby river. She  would later learn her mother had also been young, just 11, when her own mother committed suicide.

Shirley’s favorite uncle would later commit suicide, as well as her sister’s middle child.

When she got the word that her nephew had killed himself after going off his medication, she cried out, “What’s wrong with my family?”

She now knows that her family has a genetic predisposition to mental illness, and she’s on a mission to de-stigmatize that condition, one that effects virtually every family in the land and has a vast impact in terms of lost productivity, incarceration, treatment, substance abuse, suffering and in some cases, violence and suicide.

Roughly 32,000 people kill themselves each year.

The problem has increased to the point that deaths from suicides now outnumber deaths from automobile accidents.

Ramsey says beyond breaking down the feelings of shame that keep families and individuals silent and in danger, she believes much needs to be done in terms of parity for mental health research and treatment.

Families seeking help often are limited by health insurance to scant visits and little follow-through, Ramsey said. And when it comes to fund-raising, mental health and suicide prevention and awareness programs pale compared with breast cancer and many other diseases, she said.

She has become active in fund-raising and getting the word out. Within months of her son’s death, she helped launch the first Out of the Darkness Community Walk to shine light on the problem.

The fourth annual Out of the Darkness Community Walk will be held in Deep Run park on October 26.

To find out more, go to this site:

And Shirley Ramsey’s Facebook page: