Suicide. It's a hard word to hear, even harder to say. But it needs to be talked about.
That was the focus of the Suicide Awareness and Prevention forum held last week at Laurel High School: To begin raising awareness in the hopes of reducing this tragedy, we must first lose the fear of talking about suicide and drop our reluctance to discuss it, publicly or in private conversations. Fear and reluctance only feed the myths and misperceptions about suicide, and perpetuate the stigma surrounding it.
The forum was held not only because September is National Suicide Prevention Month, but because last year, Laurel High lost one of its students to suicide. Credit Principal Dwayne Jones for beginning the conversation right away this year by organizing the forum and announcing it at Back to School Night.
Fear and reluctance was evident in the sparse turnout, despite the Back to School Night announcement and multiple robocalls from the school to family homes and cellphones the week before the forum. Still, the two dozen attendees, along with Jones; school psychologist Abbie Fenicle; school police officer, Sgt. Deborah Toppins; and all six professional school counselors, Terri Collins-Swain, Monique Graves, Tia Harris, Elizabeth Lessor, Rachel Mitchell and Rene Richardson, by their presence, showed a commitment to starting and expanding the conversation about suicide.
The invited speakers were from the nonprofit Community Crisis Services Inc. [CCSI], which offers "comprehensive crisis services" including a 24-hour, 365-days-a-year crisis hotline. Executive Director Timothy Jansen gave a presentation about the importance of raising awareness and recognizing warning signs. Along the way, he debunked some of the myths about suicide (e.g., people who talk about committing suicide rarely do it; a person with suicidal thoughts wants to die and feels there is no way out; and if a person wants to commit suicide nothing can stop them). He also presented eye-opening facts and statistics: In 2010 [the last year for which we have national statistics] there were 38,364 suicides in the U.S., or 105.1 suicides per day; suicide deaths outnumber homicides 3 to 2; and the number of suicides in the 9-12 age group has tripled over the last 10 years.
CCSI Director of Development Laila Riazi talked about the training that is available, including SAFE [Suicide Awareness For Everyone] Talk training that can help anyone recognize the warning signs and overcome the fear of asking the "S" question. For the sake of our loved ones and our community, we all need to become "gatekeepers" by becoming informed and aware. The hope is that increased awareness will lead to increased access to care.
The goal is to have a "Suicide Safer Community" where the stigma is gone, people feel free to ask for help, warning signs are recognized and all of us are not afraid to ask someone we care about the tough question, "Are you having suicidal thoughts?"
For more information about training or any other questions, contact CCSI at 301-864-7095 and http://www.communitycrisis.org.
Mike McLaughlin is a Laurel High parent and former Laurel Leader neighborhood columnist.