Suicide Awareness Month – A time to raise voices in hope
Published 7:00 am Friday, September 15, 2023
Editor’s note: This article discusses suicide. If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, don’t hesitate to contact the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
September marks National Suicide Prevention Month, a time to remember the lives lost to suicide and the millions of people who have struggled with suicidal ideation. It is a time to raise awareness about suicide prevention and to share messages of hope.
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Karen Sullins, licensed professional counselor and owner of Helping Hands Professional Counseling and Consulting, works with children and adults in Butler, Crenshaw, Lowndes, Montgomery, Elmore, and Autauga Counties.
Sullins works a lot with crisis intervention for first responders. She said the high rate of law enforcement officer suicides in the country is often caused by negative stigmas around sharing the underlying emotions which result in officers suffering greatly in silence.
“There are fundamental things that have been in place for a long time that need to change,” Sullins said. “One of those is people’s attitudes and beliefs about mental health treatment.”
Sullins said public perceptions of mental health challenges cause first responders to hold in their emotions rather than seeking help or needed treatment.
“It’s been looked at as a weakness to reach out for help for so long,” Sullins said. “Law enforcement, firemen, and EMTs are some of the worst because those guys suffer in silence. There’s a belief that they’re supposed to be heroes and be bulletproof. They carry a lot silently which leads to cumulative stress and vicarious trauma, and those things build up.”
Sullins explained that bullying and social media is a huge driver of teen and young adult suicides. With most youth having access to phones constantly, she added that this can lead to self hate and identity crisis.
“I think the number one preventive measure is for them to feel heard without being judged,” Sullins said. “To feel they are in a safe space to actually say what’s inside their minds that they can’t just say to anyone. Kids find it really hard to talk to parents, especially if the parents are going through hard things as well. That is why I feel community mentorship is so important.”
Andrea Mills, a mother who lost her teen daughter to suicide, founded the Love Like Lexi Project as a way to help the youth choose life and understand there is another way. Mills stresses that there are often symptoms that are not obvious until it’s too late.
“Often our education teaches us about the typical signs or symptoms someone may be having if they are struggling with thoughts of suicide, but we also need to address those who may not show the typical signs,” Mills said. “Examples would be someone who may have high expectations placed on or of themselves and not being able to meet those expectations, the inability to process emotions, fear of disappointing others and feeling they can’t make a mistake, being rejected and bullied or feeling like they have lost control of a situation.”
Lisa Adair, Butler County Schools Federal Program Director, said schools are trying to get more support in place for students for suicide prevention and to help students understand that often these intense emotions are temporary.
“We do have partnerships with South Central Mental Health, and they are able to serve our students,” Adair said. “We’re trying to be more preventative so that we’re not responding to a suicide or a suicide attempt. We want to help kids understand that these feelings of desperation are part of the human condition. They are temporary and there is help and hope. This month is an opportunity to reflect on how precious life is and how everyone in our community is worthy and deserves the joy of life.”
Sullins said that the only way we can heal this national crisis is as a group together.
“It’s a group effort, and no counselor, psychiatrist, youth pastor or mentor can do it by themselves,” Sullins said. “It’s going to take a team of people to make an impact. It’s time for us to collectively raise our voices to prevent suicide in our communities and state. To reflect on the positive strides made while recognizing the work that still lies ahead.”
If you are feeling vulnerable or suicidal or are worried about someone, call 988, the national number for all mental health, substance use, and suicide crises. For more information on this lifeline, visit the Alabama Department of Mental Health or www.988lifeline.org/chat.