ELYRIA — In conjunction with other suicide prevention events this weekend, mental health professionals held an educational discussion and panel Saturday at Second Bapist Church in Elyria, aiming to dispell myths and reduce the stigma on the topic.
Dorena Gilchrist, director of emergency services at the Nord Center, gave a presentation on several aspects of suicide prevention early in the afternoon, before a larger panel discussion. In it, Gilchrist focused on factors including what can lead someone to suicide, how struggles in the African-American community differ and prevention techniques.
“When we stigmatize people, they stop talking,” she said. “And when people stop talking about their feelings, they can become (isolated), and if they become isolated, they’re more likely to die by suicide.”
She said one in five people have mental illness, and stigma often prevents them from getting help. She also showed a video from the National Alliance on Mental Illness highlighting how mental health can affect African-Americans.
She discussed the myths surrounding suicide, such as that talking about suicide will lead someone to do it. She also discussed risk and protective factors. One risk contributor, she said, is access to transportation. Without transportation, people can become isolated and can’t reach the services they need. Protective factors include receiving counseling and having social support systems.
Later, panelists including Jane Lewins, Ohio chapter president for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, and Elizabeth Wolanski, child and adolescent services director for the Lorain County Board of Mental Health, discussed suicide prevention techniques.
Lewins, who lost her son, Micah, to suicide in 2011, said she didn’t realize how big of a problem it was — and how rarely people talk about it.
“People that I sat in the football stands with and PTA meetings and groups, neighbors, came and said, ‘Oh, yeah I lost my father to suicide’ or ‘I lost my cousin.’ We’d never talked about it. I never knew that had happened in their families. And so I always say, if you can say the word, say the word. You can save a life.”
“There’s still a stigma attached to mental health and to suicide in general, and I think with suicide specifically … people are afraid to say the word,” she said. “And one of the myths that we dispel immediately with all of our training is that just by saying the word, by asking someone if they have thoughts of suicide, that is not going to lead to them acting upon those thoughts.”
The Lorain County Board of Mental Health is hosting several training courses for residents interested in learning suicide prevention techniques. A 90-minute Question Persuade Refer class is 3 to 5 p.m. today, with other sessions 6 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday in Amherst, or 6 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday in Grafton. An eight-hour mental health first aid course will be 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Oct. 17 and 18 for any county resident 18 and older. Lastly, a 16-hour Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training course will be 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 25 and 26 in Avon and 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Nov. 5 and 6 in Elyria. For more information, visit lcbmh.org.