By SARA ARTHURS
The annual suicide vigil held by National Alliance on Mental Illness, Hancock County, will look a little different this year — and will be the start of a new, ongoing effort to prevent future deaths.
The vigil will take place from 3-5 p.m. Sunday at Gateway Plaza, on the northeast side of the Main Street bridge. It will feature the release of 100 monarch butterflies, in reference to the agency’s hope to someday prevent 100% of all suicide attempts.
Eric McKee, NAMI Hancock County’s executive director, said the agency will also dedicate the ground around the gazebo where, in conjunction with Hancock Park District, a butterfly garden will be created. Two benches will be installed there, for people to go and talk when they are having a difficult time.
“We know that when people talk about how they’re feeling … that’s the best prevention,” he said.
The butterfly garden and benches will be installed at a later date, but will be permanent fixtures. McKee said the idea is to build an environment that is good for monarch butterflies, which symbolize hope and freedom.
“It’s all about the hope,” he said.
At the vigil, NAMI will also drop flower petals into the Blanchard River, signifying those lost to suicide.
And they will put up life-sized silhouettes of the human form — 11 of them, painted black, representing those the community has lost to suicide over the past year. Interspersed among them will be 12 more figures, painted yellow, representing projected deaths over the next year.
But, McKee said, it’s still possible to save those 12. For every person who signs up or completes a mental health-related training session, NAMI will put a green sash across the yellow silhouette with the words “Saved By My Community. Thank You.”
McKee said “we need to be reflective” about the silhouettes painted black, and honor the lives that were lost. The yellow ones, however, represent the internal pain of those who might be lost to suicide, but are also a representation “of hope, of saving these lives. We still have a chance to make an impact in this community when it comes to death by suicide.”
McKee said experts know that people who have attempted suicide say that if just one person “had said, ‘Hey, are you OK?’ or ‘Please don’t do this,'” it would prevent them from doing it at least for that day.
NAMI Hancock County received a grant of just over $10,000 from the Andone Trust through the ADAMHS Board, which will pay for the butterfly garden and silhouettes. McKee said when the agency received the grant, organizers thought, to make an impact, “we need to let people know that this is real. … This is real. These are human beings. These are people that we have lost.”
And if we as a community can make talking about mental health issues, addiction and other struggles “a commonplace conversation for us,” we can prevent some of these deaths, he said.
NAMI Hancock County offers Peer to Peer and Family to Family courses. The former are for anyone living with a mental health condition — even if it is undiagnosed. Family to Family is for families of those living with mental health conditions.
While the current session of Peer to Peer is closed to signups, registration for Family to Family is open through Sept. 23. The class runs from 6-8:30 p.m. Mondays. Call 567-525-3435 or email email@example.com to sign up.
In addition to these classes, people who complete a Mental Health First Aid course or QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) can also lead to a green sash being placed on a silhouette. These trainings are similar to a first aid or CPR class, but for mental health instead of physical health. Mental Health First Aid will be held from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 21 at Alumni Memorial Union at the University of Findlay. Call Focus at 419-423-5071 to sign up.
In addition, contacting NAMI Hancock County to volunteer as a facilitator for a class or group will also lead to a green sash being added.
NAMI Hancock County also offers support groups, and facilitators are needed for these as well.
McKee said not just those with a diagnosed mental health issue but anyone suffering “any kind of setback” could find themselves having suicidal thoughts.
“As a society, we don’t like to talk about suicide,” he said. “If it hasn’t touched us personally,” we tend to view suicide as “an unpleasant discussion,” so “we forget about it,” he said.
He said people who have never experienced suicidal thoughts may think it’s an awkward conversation, or that they don’t want to put it into the person’s mind. But “if it’s there, it’s there.”
McKee said those who struggle with suicidal ideation need to “give permission to our loved ones. … I’m giving you permission to ask me, ‘Are you having suicidal thoughts? Where are you today?'” The loved ones then need to respond in an appropriate way, to ask, “Can we talk about that?” and to “engage in that conversation.”
McKee said he’s been open about his own mental health issues and the reactions are “incredible, to be honest with you.”
When he gives presentations, he may point out that 1 in 5 people have a mental illness. If there are 50 people in that particular room, he knows there are nine others out there.
Just as there was a time when you didn’t say “cancer” — instead saying “the C word” — things change, McKee said. “We can make mental illness and suicide prevention that same kind of conversation.”
And he said locally, “I believe that we can. I really believe in this community, as well. It’s a caring, loving, friendly community.”
For those who are struggling, Hancock County’s crisis line is 1-888-936-7116. Ohio also has a crisis text line — text the keyword “4hope” to 741 741.
Ride for Recovery, march rev up Recovery Month
NAMI Hancock County’s suicide vigil comes midway through Recovery Month, and there are two upcoming events related to recovery from mental health and substance abuse.
The Ride for Recovery is Saturday, with check-in from 10 a.m. to noon at Focus, 509 Trenton Ave. Riders will visit several stops throughout the county.
The cost is $20 per rider and $10 per passenger. Included with registration is a meal ticket for the after-party, which begins at 5:30 p.m. in the south parking lot of the municipal building, 318 Dorney Plaza. A barbecue dinner will be held from 6-7 p.m.
Additional meal tickets are $5, making it possible to attend the after-party without participating in the ride.
To register, visit focusrwc.org or call 419-423-5071. Same-day registration is also available.
Findlay’s fifth annual Recovery March will take place from 8 a.m. to noon Sept. 21 at St. Marks United Methodist Church, 800 S. Main St.
The march will be preceded by a resource fair, and will include speakers and “recovery awards” for individuals who are in recovery and businesses that are supportive of the recovery community.
Suicide prevention for older adults
In recognition of Sept. 8-14 as National Suicide Prevention Week, Ursel J. McElroy, director of the Ohio Department of Aging, is encouraging all Ohioans to connect with older friends and loved ones and become aware of resources that can prevent suicide.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in America, with approximately one death every 12 minutes.
In Ohio, men age 75 and older have the highest rate of suicide.
“Connect with the older adults in your life,” McElroy said. “Spend some quality time with your neighbors, coworkers, friends and family members. See how they are doing and assure them that they are not alone. Small gestures can show you care and make a difference in someone’s life.”
Factors that increase the risk of suicide include hopelessness, lack of social support, loss of relationships, financial loss, substance abuse, physical illness, anxiety or other mental health disorders, history of trauma and abuse, and access to lethal means, such as firearms and medications.
The Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services offers suicide prevention information for older adults at www.mha.ohio.gov/Families-Children-and-Adults/Suicide-Prevention.