‘It’s everywhere’: Valdosta support group dialing in on suicide epidemic
VALDOSTA, Ga. (WALB) - As we watch the seasons change, we’re also watching more and more people and organizations find new ways of giving back to the community, especially with the holidays upon us.
On Sept. 4-10, National Suicide Prevention Week was observed but one Valdosta organization is making sure suicide awareness is spread all year long.
Dr. Charlene Blache and Leah McMillan, founders of United 2 Prevent Suicide, established their task force last year after watching a steady increase in suicides in their community.
“We do know that there has been an increase in this silent epidemic and we’re just trying to be a voice,” said McMillan. “We are losing more veterans to suicide; we are losing more middle school and high school students to suicide than ever before. So we do know across the board nationally unfortunately our community is seeing exactly what we’re seeing nationwide.”
Both women said they not only saw an uptick in suicides in their community but also right in front of them in their professions.
Blache is a pediatrician and McMillan is a marriage and family therapist, trauma specialist and certified first responder counselor.
“It’s everywhere and you don’t know because when we do those screens at my clinic, sometimes you’re shocked that the kid who looks fine coming into the office, you look at the screen and you look at the screen and they don’t match at all,” Blache said. “So, you can’t tell by just looking at someone what’s going on. You have to ask, you have to inquire to be curious and again there are signs but sometimes the signs are subtle. So any change in behavior that seems odd, you just have to care about people enough to ask ‘how are you doing?’”
With their organization United 2 prevent Suicide, the ladies use outreach projects and events that focus on mental health and suicide prevention methods. The biggest obstacle they’ve come across was removing the stigma of talking about suicide.
“We’re talking about a really difficult subject. You know, when we bring up suicide and we talk about prevention and awareness and we give the statistics, people want to just naturally shy away,” McMillan said. “They don’t want to have this conversation that makes them feel uncomfortable but the more we have these difficult conversations, the more individuals are going to seek help,”
So what do you do if you know someone is thinking about suicide?
“The simplest steps, question, persuade, refer. So you’re going to question and you’re going to ask direct questions: ‘Are you having thoughts of ending your life? Are you having thought of suicide? Do you have a plan to harm yourself?’ ask very direct questions,” McMillan said. “Then you’re going to persuade them to seek help, speak to that trusted adult, the counselor, the pediatrician, the pastor the parent and then you’re going to refer. And sometimes referrals may mean hospitalizations. Other times referrals mean seeking counseling.”
Along with those steps, McMillan said the easiest thing anyone can do is show kindness to that person and never leave their side.
“But the most important thing is it takes 60 seconds to question someone, persuade them to seek help, and refer them. Never leave someone that is possibly hurting by themselves,” she said.
Since being established, United 2 Prevent has spread that information and made suicide prevention resources more accessible throughout Lowndes County. Their future plans include bringing a National Alliance on Mental Illness group to the area.
“We’re also bringing more awareness to grief support groups for those family members who have lost individuals to suicide, again just to be a light,” McMillan added.
And above all else, Blache just wants everyone to know that United 2 Prevent is here to help.
“We want people to know help is available. No one needs to choose a permanent solution to a temporary problem,” Blache said.
For more information about United 2 Prevent Suicide, Click here.
If you or someone you know is experiencing thoughts of suicide, call the 24-hours suicide and crisis lifeline at 988.
Do you know someone or an organization that deserves to be recognized? Send your suggestions to my email at Lenah.Allen@walb.com.
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