September, semicolons and suicide prevention
By: Shannon Courington
Awareness is a popular term in contemporary society. There are awareness ribbons of various colors, days set aside for particular awareness and entire months devoted for consciousness regarding particular issues. Creating awareness—knowledge or perception of a situation or fact, is the goal of these efforts. At times though, our eyes and ears become accustomed to the ribbons, the events and the causes. There are two main causes that are promoted during the month of September, Childhood Cancer Awareness and Suicide Prevention. Each of these causes are worthy of attention and action.
September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) says that there is much benefit in suicide prevention year- round, but designates September as a time for collaboration between mental health providers and the community for discussion of this very difficult topic. Every September, mental health advocates, suicide prevention groups, survivors, allies, and community members unite for the common cause of suicide prevention.
Suicide, the intentional taking of one’s own life, is the tenth leading cause of death for all ages in America. In Alabama, it is the second leading cause of death for individuals ages 15-24. Since 1990, the suicide rate in Alabama has been higher than the national average. Additionally, Alabama has fewer mental health care resources than any other state in the nation.
Local families deal with suicide loss
Courtney Weaver of Jackson says that on July 24, her entire world changed with one phone call. Her brother, Tripp Carter, had ended his own life. Weaver says that until that phone call, she, nor anyone in her family, knew the warning signs that someone with suicidal ideations may exhibit. Unfortunately, hindsight is perfect. Weaver says that from the outside, her brother always seemed happy and was always smiling. According to Weaver, behind the warm sense of humor and bright smile was a person who was living with depression, a crippling mental illness. “Knowing the signs could have helped us get Tripp the help he needed,” Weaver stated. The Carter and Weaver families are doing their part to spread awareness and to speak out in order to save lives. They have sold tee shirts in Tripp’s memory with proceeds benefitting the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The family is planning a local candlelight vigil for all of those in our community that have been affected by suicide. Another project in the works is a nonprofit organization called TSm;le, that will educate others in the local community about mental illness and suicide.
With the belief that suicide is usually preventable, the mission of Project Semicolon is to aid in reducing the number of suicides by providing greater access to resources. In grammar, a period is used to end a sentence, but a semicolon is used to link two independent clauses together, causing the sentence to be longer and more detailed. In relation to suicide, the semicolon is used to remind individuals that their story isn’t over yet and to encourage them to seek help and continue living rather than choosing suicide. The goal of Project Semicolon is to raise public awareness, educate communities, and provide individuals with tools to save lives. The Carter family has chosen to incorporate the semicolon into their nonprofit as a reminder for those struggling that there is more life to live.
The warning signs
Awareness of warning signs of suicide is crucial for parents, friends, spouses and caregivers. Dramatic changes in sleep and appetite are hallmark signs of change within an individual. A decline in personal care and a decline in functioning at school or work or difficulty performing familiar tasks are also warning signs of mental distress or suicidal ideations. Apathy towards situations or people that would have formerly warranted an individual’s full attention is another area of concern. Rapid and dramatic shifts in emotions, fear or suspiciousness, or strong feelings of paranoia or nervousness are a few other signs of a decline in an individual’s mental health and desire to live.
Stigma is defined as “a mark of disgrace or infamy; a stain or reproach, as on one’s reputation.” Because of the stigma that is associated with mental illness, suicide and suicide attempts, many individuals do not seek help that is available. Society tends to judge and shun those with mental illness. Courtney Weaver said that she and her family always knew what suicide was and had even known families affected by it; but always thought there was no way it could affect them. In the eight-week period since Tripp’s death, the family has arrived at the sobering realization that suicide is not a respecter of persons, families or situations. Weaver encourages individuals to stop the stigma of suicide as being a cowardly act, a permanent solution to a temporary problem, selfishness or taking the easy way out. There is no true way to know what an individual may be internally battling. Mental health experts encouraged individuals to ask hard questions and listen to how the individual responds. Experts also warn family members to take every threat seriously. If an individual trusts a person enough to share their struggles with suicidal ideation, be willing to listen and not judge, but to show empathy and point them to resources that will help them.
Courtney Weaver used this expression to describe the pain and loss that her family is experiencing. Her brother left behind an infant son who will not know his father’s love personally, but he will grow up knowing about his father through Weaver and her parents, Ann and Bo Carter and brother, Hunter Carter. Weaver says that she would not wish the nightmarish experience of losing someone to suicide on anyone, but hopes that what her family has learned through this loss may save someone else’s life.
Resources for mental health treatment are available in all counties in Alabama. Community mental health centers serve each county. Most of these work on a sliding fee scale for patients who lack insurance and most bill Medicaid. A majority of counties have private practitioners who accept private insurance and private pay options. Many churches offer counseling services as well. The Suicide Lifeline is a free 24/7 call center to assist anyone who is struggling with depression or suicidal ideation. The number is 1-800-273-8255 or 1-800-273-TALK
Weekly columnist. Feature Writer.