In the space of the two weeks before this story was written, four children under the age of 17 in the Northwest Ohio area attempted to take their own lives. Three of them succeeded.
“Suicide is the second leading cause of death for 10-24 year olds. It’s huge. And we can’t afford to ignore it anymore,” said Jen Wakefield, the coordinator for the Lucas County Suicide Prevention Coalition.
For the past eight years, the Coalition has made it their mission to be a proactive fighter against both suicide and the stigma that exists when discussing it openly.
“Many cultures don’t really talk about it. It’s just one of those topics that we try and avoid. Unfortunately, it’s pretty common. [In] the Toledo area, although the coroner’s office reported last year there were 78 suicides, we believe the number is much larger due to the way it is reported,” Wakefield said.
In an effort to open up the discussion about the issue and make people more willing to speak out about their own experiences, the Suicide Prevention Coalition works to actively reach out to at-risk individuals through events and presentations at area schools and offices.
“We have a really great mix of professionals and people that are interested in suicide prevention from a personal perspective,” Wakefield said. “We do plenty of awareness activities in the community. We do education in the schools and in the workplace.”
The ripple effect
An upcoming screening of the film Suicide: The Ripple Effect, a documentary about the impact suicide can have on an individual’s loved ones, and the remarkable effect advocacy can have in preventing it, is scheduled for December 4th at the Maumee Indoor Theatre.
In the spirit of the documentary, Wakefield said that the Coalition spreads its message to all who may need it. “The movie part is uncommon, there aren’t a lot of documentaries that come out on the topic,” Wakefield added.
“We do events in the community often… speakers and panels. We just wrapped up Suicide Prevention Month, so we had a slew of [events]. We had rock concerts, shows and church functions. We tried to hit it everywhere, because this topic effects everybody.”
As a result, the Coalition’s efforts have ended up far exceeding its goals. Wakefield estimates that the group presents to over 3,000 people a year. (The group is supported by the Lucas County Mental Health and Recovery Services Board.)
In addition to their monthly meetings, the Suicide Prevention Coalition’s biggest efforts come in area schools, as they talk to kids from 6th to 12th grade about the issue.
“We’re really responsible about how we talk about it. We use proper language, and the younger age, we’ll talk more about wellness and emotions, and the older students, we’ll talk more suicide prevention. In the workplace, we do more of a gatekeeper, or being more of a watchful eye for people who may be struggling.
“We keep it as lighthearted as possible, we have really good presenters who have good banter. We’re responsible with the topic, but we present it in a way that’s not painful to watch,” said Wakefield, adding “We try really hard to be a bridge to connect people, whether they need support, or survivors of suicide, or family members trying to navigate what’s next.”
For anyone seeking help, Wakefield strongly encourages them to call the hotline (800-273-TALK) or send a text to 741741 to be connected to a counselor.