Cumberland University held its annual Never Alone event Thursday where friends and loved ones touched by suicide were honored.
Chuck Whitlock, chair of the Wilson County Health Council, welcomed about 50 people, which included students, faculty and members of the community to Baird Chapel where he spoke about the scope of suicide in society.
“I deal with it from a school standpoint. With my paying job, we deal with it in higher education. We deal with it in the faith community. We deal with it everywhere. It’s not a Wilson County thing. It’s not just a Tennessee thing. It’s where we are in 2018, and we will continue to fight to give hope to help those who are dealing with it, those that have family members and loved who that are dealing with it. We will continue to do everything we can to raise awareness and help people and help each other,” Whitlock said.
Brenda Harper, a retired mental health professional and volunteer with the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network, a statewide organization responsible for implementing the Tennessee Strategy for Suicide Prevention as defined by the 2001 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention, gave an overview of the role and work done by TSPN to reduce suicide rates in Tennessee.
Harper said in 2016, 1,110 people died from suicide in Tennessee, 21 of whom were from Wilson County.
According to the National Institute of Health, suicide was the tenth leading cause of death overall in the United States, in 2016, with nearly 45,000 people dying from suicide. Suicide was also the second-leading cause of death among people 10-34 years old and the fourth-leading cause of death among people 35-54 years old.
Harper encouraged those struggling with suicidal thoughts to seek support and to stay strong in the moments that challenge them most.
Samantha Nadler, a crisis counselor supervisor for Crisis Text Line, spoke about her personal struggles with suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts throughout life, experiences that eventually brought her to her career, where she helps others by having a unique understanding of the challenges around suicide and suicide prevention.
“It can be easy for people who don’t get it to call the shots in our field, and having that perspective and shedding light on something that maybe somebody else didn’t consider, especially in our field, and how we interact with people who are thinking about suicide. That can really be meaningful and can change the course of something, so I’m very much about people being in the field who have that experience. I think that it makes a difference in what we do,” Nadler said.
Students also spoke about their struggles and experiences with suicidal thoughts, attempts and losing loved ones to suicide.
Immanuel Baptist Church’s Ignite Choir sang songs of love and support as candles flickered in memory of those lost and in solidarity with those who face everyday struggles.
Harper spoke about the need to support everyone in his or her struggles regardless of age, profession or social status.
“Forty years ago when I started working in mental health, we would have people who want to park in our back parking lot at the mental health center because they didn’t want anyone to see them and know that they were coming there. So that stigma was acute and strong, so I think that just being able to speak up and say, ‘This is real for all generations.’ So I do a lot of talks to seniors and senior groups, and they will eventually open up, but a lot of seniors don’t want to talk about that either – but we have to,” Harper said.
Mt. Juliet police Chief James Hambrick gave the closing prayer and invoked the memory of Mt. Juliet police Officer Brittany Frazier, who died nearly a year ago from suicide.
When asked what people thinking about suicide, planning suicide or those who know someone struggling need to know, Harper and Nadler spoke about the need to support one another and find support in times of need.
“Reach out. There’s hope out there. There are people that you can talk to. Reach out to somebody,” Harper said. “And then for those of us on the other side, we need to be more in tune with the people that we care about and we need to not be afraid to ask, ‘Are you OK?’ We don’t need to ignore those things that we may see that are going on in their life.”
“There are resources you can reach out to anonymously. If, unfortunately, you have nobody or you perceive that you have no one to talk to, there’s the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, there’s the Crisis Text Line. Those are resources made available where you can be anonymous, so that people can reach out to someone trained without judgment,” Nadler said.
If anyone needs help with the struggles of suicide, contact the Tennessee Crisis Text Line and text “TN 741741” or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.