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Communication key to suicide prevention

Joyce Rudolph

In her suicide awareness campaign, Erica Sweet Watkins believes it’s

time society started talking about the problem, instead of sweeping

it under the mat.


Sharing their grief with a counselor helped her family through the

devastating months after her brother, Douglas “Dougie” John Sweet,

took his life in January 2002.

The family, including Dougie’s parents, Doug and Joan Carter of


Burbank, began counseling in March of that year. Their counselor was

a suicide survivor and gave Watkins a new perspective, she said.

“It changed my thinking -- I got educated about suicide,” Watkins


And now she is educating others so they know where to go for help,

whether they are contemplating suicide or are families or individuals

who have lost loved ones to suicide.

For the second year, her Team Sweetwater is participating in the


Didi Hirsch Suicide Prevention Center’s “Alive and Running” 5K/10K

walk/run Sept. 21 near Los Angeles International Airport. It raises

money for counseling and other services the center provides,

including a 24-hour suicide prevention hotline.

Last year, Erica and her husband, Brad, organized the team of 75

adults and children and raised more than $500 from the proceeds of

their Sweetwater T-shirts. This year, the couple hopes to raise



They are encouraging people to join Team Sweetwater, to buy

memento Sweetwater T-shirts and baseball caps with proceeds going to

the suicide prevention center and to make monetary donations to the


Erica’s brother Dougie was 31 when he died. The Burbank native

owned Sweetwater Pools, a pool-cleaning business here. He was also

manager of his parents’ Carter’s VSP Parking business at the

Burbank-Glendale- Pasadena Airport.

The most important thing Watkins wants to promote is telling those

contemplating suicide that help is out there, that people at the

center will listen. Talking about it is the most important way to

prevent suicide, she said.

People are more open about HIV and AIDS today but not so about

suicide, she said. An acquaintance told Watkins she had no problem

wearing her AIDS prevention T-shirt, but had to think twice about

wearing a suicide prevention one.

“I don’t want people to shut down and not talk about it,” she

said. “They need to recognize there is help out there, and that

suicide is not the only way out.”

The center not only provides counseling for those thinking about

suicide, but families who have lost members to suicide. For

information on local meetings, call (310) 751-5426. The crisis

services line is (310) 390-8896.

The cost for the Team Sweetwater T-shirt is $15. To participate in

the walk/run, the cost is $20 before Sept. 16 and $25 after. To

register, call Watkins at 360-8716.