HUNTINGTON — A panel of experts gathered at Marshall University to talk about what they agreed too often goes undiscussed: suicide and its prevention, described as one of the last taboos in mental health.
The conversation was part of a town hall forum hosted Monday night by Marshall’s Department of Social Work at the Memorial Student Center, addressing questions and comments from students about how to reduce stigma and better address suicide in the community at large.
“People have a hard time even saying they lost someone they loved to suicide,” said Paula Rymer, assistant professor of social work, who organized and spoke alongside the panel of social workers, academics and mental health professionals.
Suicide is the 14th leading cause of death in West Virginia, and it can affect a spectrum of demographics in different manners, Rymer explained.
Among the elderly, suicide has become starkly more prevalent in recent years, spurred on often by losing their independence and feeling like a burden on loved ones. For college students and young adults, it may be a feeling of “failed belongingness” - of not being able to find their place in an new environment.
These and other established mental health issues were only exacerbated with the issue of opioid use becoming more widespread a few years earlier, with many feeling a profound sense of hopelessness when mired in addiction.
“A lot of them feel like they’ve lost all their support and that they’ve burned too many bridges, and so we’re seeing more intentional overdoses in individuals who have been in that addiction cycle,” Rymer said.
In public schools, students thought to be at-risk are pulled in for suicide assessments, usually stemming from loss at home or in a relationship, explained Samantha Hicks, a transitional social worker for Cabell County Schools, who joined the panel.
Six students have been given suicide assessments already this school year, three of which Hicks described as serious.
“A lot of it’s just talking to a child and letting them know there’s a caring adult,” Hicks said. “A non-judgmental caring adult is huge.
“We’ll be there and talk about whatever they want to talk about all times of the day.”
But progress has been made in suicide prevention efforts over the past few years, Rymer added, particularly in the area of community education - encouraging the conversations that may save a life to start, and answering the questions left by those lost.
“People want answers,” Rymer said. “Everybody always asks ‘Why? Why did they do this? What is it I missed? Is there something I could have done?’ We hear that and see that so often.”
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-8255.
‘Out of the Darkness’ walk
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s West Virginia Chapter will host its inaugural “Out of the Darkness” community walk in Huntington from 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 13 at Ritter Park. The walk was established to raise awareness of the issues of depression and suicide, and to replace stigma with hope for a better life.
For more information, visit event page for “Out of the Darkness Huntington Community Walk” on Facebook.