Suicide prevention group, victim advocates respond to Carlson’s death, allegations

Posted Nov. 15, 2011, at 6:03 p.m.
Last modified Nov. 15, 2011, at 6:45 p.m.
The Rev. Robert Carlson in June 2010.
The Rev. Robert Carlson in June 2010.

BANGOR, Maine — In the wake of the Rev. Robert Carlson’s suicide and allegations of past abuse, groups are stepping forward to offer support to victims of sexual assault and people contemplating suicide.

“Any high-profile case and how it gets handled in the press or media — that can certainly have an impact on whether others come forward,” said Tamar Mathieu, executive director of Rape Response Services in Bangor.

She cited allegations of abuse directed at prominent people such as Carlson and Penn State football’s former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky as recent stories that could draw out victims of other assaults.

“I would be very surprised if that didn’t happen,” Mathieu said. “I expect that we’ll have more people calling for our services.”

Rape Response Services offers a 24-hour hot line, 1-800-310-0000, and continuing services, such as support groups, counseling and legal services for victims of abuse.

“People who experience trauma as a result of a childhood sexual assault may reach a point in their life as an adult where they feel it’s important to come forward,” Mathieu said.

The hot line has received calls from victims of assaults that took place the day before, the year before, a decade ago or 50 years ago, she said, adding that media attention can “make people think about their experiences” and cause their trauma to resurface.

Carlson committed suicide last weekend by jumping off the Penobscot Narrows Bridge, according to the state medical examiner’s office. State police had been conducting interviews with relatives of an alleged victim who family members said had a long-term sexual relationship with Carlson.

Carol Carothers, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness in Maine, an organization that offers suicide-prevention services, said the loss of such an influential community member to suicide affects more than just the people directly involved.

“A suicide has an enormous impact on all the people who knew the person who died and the people who know those people,” Carothers said. “We want to be sure that people who are upset, filled with grief, filled with other emotions over this know that there are resources out there.”

Carothers said that anyone considering suicide or worried about someone who might be suicidal should call the Maine Mental Health Crisis Hot Line at 1-888-568-1112 for help.

“Our goal is to prevent suicide, and do that by helping everybody know the warning signs and know what to do,” Carothers said.

Carlson reportedly persuaded several people not to commit suicide in the past. He talked one man off a Bangor bridge in 1988. Just last year, he convinced a woman that she shouldn’t jump off the Penobscot Narrows Bridge

Carlson worked closely with NAMI in his role as president of Penobscot Community Health Care, according to Carothers.

“Grief is grief,” she said, “and we will all be feeling it for some time.”

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 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

• Extreme mood swings

Source: National Alliance on Mental Illness in Maine

For more information, visit http://www.namimaine.org/info.php?id=211.

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