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Howard County airing suicide prevention PSA in select movie theaters

Sincere Melvin danced to his own drum.

He wore a yellow, green and purple patterned suit to his senior prom at Mt. Hebron High School and, for his senior portraits, he wore a rubber horse head, complete with a bright orange mane.

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His mother, LaShanda Whaley, said her son was “a really outgoing and a loving kid.”

Six weeks after graduating from Mt. Hebron in 2018, Sincere took his own life at age 17 after suffering from depression and anxiety.

“Mental health really needs to be prioritized … it doesn’t discriminate, it can really be anyone,” Whaley said. “For all the things my son was — he was tall, he was handsome, he was funny — [and yet] I’m still sitting here in this chair as a parent who lost their son to suicide because of [a] mental health disease.”

Whaley will appear this month alongside Howard County Executive Calvin Ball in a public service announcement about suicide prevention.

The 30-second PSA will air for the next four weeks, beginning Friday, where Whaley will share her son’s story.

The spot will be shown in the AMC Columbia and Snowden Square movie theaters, a total of 28 screens, and before all the county’s Recreation and Parks summer movie showings.

Airing the PSA during the summer was “critical” for Ball, he said.

“During the summertime when there are a lot of young people who are not necessarily connected to their peers or friends … I thought it was critical to have these resources in place.”

The county’s target audience are people between the ages of 13 and 35. Showing the PSA cost the county nearly $10,000 for the month.

The PSA is furthering the county’s “It’s OK To Ask” youth suicide prevention campaign that focuses on encouraging people to talk openly about suicide and suicide prevention. The campaign, announced in February, is part of a plan developed by the county health department.

In Howard County, suicide was the leading cause of death for people age 15 to 19 from 2014 to 2016, according to data provided to the health department from Maryland Vital Statistics data.

“As a dad of a middle schooler and a high schooler, it’s concerning to me that 1-in-5 middle school students have considered suicide and 1-in-7 high schoolers have made a plan [to commit suicide],” Ball said, referring to Howard County data from the 2016 Youth Risk Behavior Survey & Youth Tobacco Survey results.

The federal and state mandated survey is conducted every two years with middle and high school students. The anonymous results are sent to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for primary analysis, according to the school system’s website.

Ball said he hopes the PSA will “continue to increase awareness, reduce stigma, improve prevention and help people with referrals to treatment.”

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The PSA ends with the contact information from the Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center, the county 24-hour multi-service crisis intervention center. The center can be contacted at 410-531-6677.

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