September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month
By Melanie Dallas, LPC; Highland Rivers Health CEO
Suicide has always been puzzling and tragic. Psychiatrists, psychologists and especially those who have lost a loved one to suicide often don’t understand how an individual might perceive daily life to be so unbearable that he or she would choose death. And when suicide occurs, the tragedy is not only in the loss of a human life and the grief of those left behind, but also in the fact that in many cases suicide can be prevented.
While suicide among veterans has received much attention and resources – as it should – equally tragic are suicides among young people. In fact, suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people ages 10 to 24 in the U.S. Each day, an average of 12 young people complete suicide, while more than 1,000 attempt it.
Compounding the problem are many myths about suicide – myths that lead many to believe there is nothing they can do to prevent the suicide of a friend or family member. Two of the most common myths are that people contemplating suicide – especially young people –give no warning signs, and that talking to someone about suicide is more likely to make him or her do it.
But in fact four out of five teens who attempt suicide have given clear warning signs. One of the most important warning signs is talking about suicide. Equally important, if you hear someone talking about suicide, asking about it does not make him or her more likely to attempt it. Rather, asking about it can often be the first critical step in preventing it.
Highland Rivers Health is a recipient of a Garrett Lee Smith suicide prevention grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The program – which was developed following the suicide of former Oregon Senator Gordon Smith’s son Garrett in 2003 – allows Highland Rivers to provide enhanced suicide prevention services in the areas we serve. Those services include:
Early detection: Highland Rivers works with community partners to create a culture of support to prevent suicide attempts and completions in our communities through early detection and referral. We provide assessments to address risk factors and referrals to community support organizations.
Therapy: We have trained professionals who treat and minimize suicide risk factors. A licensed clinician and peer specialist are available to meet with individuals who report suicide risk factors and their family members. Staff have been trained to assess and manage suicidality and use interventions to increase reasons for living.
Support: We help loss survivors recover after the death or suicide attempt of a loved one through group therapy sessions and community support programs.
Education: Highland Rivers provides free trainings for community organizations, schools, colleges, healthcare providers and others so they can learn to detect suicide risk and intervene. A two-hour Question, Persuade, Refer (QPR) training can be scheduled at your location or you can attend other QPR trainings being offered in the area. This important and informative training can help you, coworkers, students or friends learn how to help someone who is thinking about suicide. And it’s free.
If you are interested in scheduling a QPR training for your organization, school, workplace or community group, email us at ZeroSuicide@highlandrivers.org. If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide and would like to speak with a professional counselor, call us at (800) 729-5700 to learn how to enroll in services with our agency.
It is important to remember that suicide can almost always be prevented. By becoming aware of the risk factors and warning signs – and more important, learning how to intervene to help someone who may be thinking about suicide – we can work toward reducing the number of suicides in our communities to zero.
Melanie Dallas is a licensed professional counselor and CEO of Highland Rivers Health, which provides treatment and recovery services for individuals with mental illness, substance use disorders, and intellectual and developmental disabilities in a 12-county region of northwest Georgia that includes Bartow, Cherokee, Floyd, Fannin, Gilmer, Gordon, Haralson, Murray, Paulding, Pickens, Polk and Whitfield counties.
Thursday night, at the Polk County College & Career Academy, an open-to-all invitation was in place for anyone who needed to know more about an epidemic of adolescent suicides in our region.
It was a school night, the eve of a busy weekend starting with high school football and then catching up on everything else pushed to the side by the pressures of the work week.
A good crowd was expected; instead, it was exceeded. More than 200 people invested 90 minutes for a quick dinner followed by a lightning-fast hour of stunning statistics and answers to why we’re seeing those 10 to 19 take their own lives. Even more surprising — a good 60 percent of the audience were of that age group with questions of their own.
Thursday was the first of two community events from Willowbrooke at Floyd designed to “help parents, teachers and families learn more about recognizing the warning signs of adolescent suicide and where to get help.”
Says Debra Price, a counselor and one of the panelists: “Our biggest hope for anyone who attends is for them to feel empowered, to know what to look for, how to address the identified needs in the moment and where they can find professional help and intervention.”
The second one is tonight — Monday, Sept. 18 — from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at The Warehouse: West Rome Baptist Church, 914 Shorter Ave. NW. All the barriers are gone — the seminar is free, dinner is included and you’ll be on your way home after 90 minutes. But what’s key is what you’ll take with you and how it might help stop a deadly trend.
Price and Dan Bevels of Floyd Medical Center joined us on Hometown Headlines Radio Edition on WRGA 98.7 FM last Friday morning, not even 12 hours after the Polk County presentation. Both were still talking about the large turnout the night before — and some of the statistics that perhaps fueled the interest from parents, educators and students. (Please click the SoundCloud audio report atop this update for more on that interview or click here).
The following graphic, from the presentation you’ll see tonight, shows why. Data from 2015 shows that of Georgia’s 159 counties, Polk ranked 20th in suicides among those from ages 10 to 19. Next came Floyd at no. 26, Bartow at no. 30, Chattooga at 50th and Gordon County, 99th.
Sadly, the numbers aren’t just from a spike year. The bar chart below from the GBI shows how the number of “teen suicides” have climbed in recent years. The 2016 report shown below is incomplete but it supports what’s confronting experts.
Even worse, the numbers were soaring again in 2017.
In May, the GBI’s Child Fatality Review Unit tracked 18 children and teens who had taken their own lives in Georgia, with 14 occurring in 60 days. The majority of the suicides were committed with firearms, with hangings next.
Professionals from the GBI quickly partnered with the Georgia Department of Education and the Georgia Department of Public Health to launch “Suicide Prevention Summits” for educators with sessions held in Macon, Rome, Gainesville and in Gwinnett County. Why those locations? “Each summit was held at a site which met the criteria of having suicides of children under 18 years old reported for three consecutive years,” according to the media release.
“More than 200 Department of Education professionals were provided with child death data on youth suicide and given suicide prevention training. Participants also were given resources and tips on dealing with a suicide death should one occur in their school. More programs are planned in September for other locations throughout the state. In order to raise awareness about this issue, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the Fatality Review Program have initiated a protocol to notify local school boards if one of their students commits suicide. This notification is an effort to involve teachers, administrators, students, support personnel, caregivers and community volunteers in dealing with and preventing future self-inflicted deaths.The main purpose of the program is to prevent deaths. The mission of GCFR is to serve Georgia’s children by promoting more accurate identification and reporting of child fatalities, evaluating the prevalence and circumstances of both child abuse cases and child fatality investigations, and monitoring the implementation and impact of the statewide child injury prevention plan to prevent and reduce incidents of child abuse and fatalities in the state.”
You’ll find an expanded version of this report by clicking here.
It is an epidemic that can’t get enough attention. And tonight, you’ll hear why and what can be done to save young lives. What’s planned:
You’ll watch a trailer for the NetFlix series “13 Reasons Why,” followed by a roundtable discussion led by counselors and therapists who have worked closely with teens and adolescents and have first-hand experience in treating young people who have suicidal thoughts. The streaming service Netflix carries the series “13 Reasons Why” and follows teenager Clay Jensen as he tries to understand why his friend and classmate, Hannah Baker, committed suicide. The series has been a popular topic of conversation. Price said “13 Reason’s Why” has sparked a positive dialogue on teen suicide. “However, we need to make sure the dialogue is healthy. Suicide should not be glamorized or made to appear valiant in any way,” Price said. “Many people have no idea the second-leading cause of death in adolescents and young adults is suicide.”
The discussion will feature current regional statistics related to suicide, actual suicide signs and symptoms to watch for, healthy talking points for parents, teachers, teens and peers, and a question-and-answer session with the panel.
Price said local churches, youth pastors and small groups in middle schools and high schools have shown interest in the events. “Leaders are desperate to know what to say, how to say it, and what they can do to help address the need,” she said.
The roundtable discussions are free and dinner will be provided, but registration is required. Visit www.floyd.org/willowbrooke to register. For more: Dan Bevels with Floyd Medical Center Public Relations at 706.509.3242.
Based in part from media releases from Floyd Medical Center and the GBI.