Posts tagged with Suicide Prevention

Survivors of suicide discuss prevention, how to cope

By Ian Cummings

Every year on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, people in Lawrence join thousands across the world in gathering to talk about their friends and family members who died by suicide.

They call it International Survivors of Suicide Day, and more join their ranks each year. Twenty-five Lawrence residents met Saturday at First United Methodist Church to share their stories of loss and help spread the word about the realities of suicide and mental illness. A panel of survivors, including City Commissioner Hugh Carter, who lost son Rees to suicide, led a discussion on how to cope with the unique grief that follows these deaths.

Marcia Epstein, director of Headquarters Counseling Center, organized the event and said Douglas County’s suicide rate was high for Kansas, which itself reports more suicides than the national average. The county saw its suicide rate double in 2010 and counted at least 29 deaths between 2010 and 2011. At least one person commits suicide in Kansas every day.

The survivors are often left with upsetting questions that can’t easily be answered. To help the bereaved cope with those and other difficulties, Headquarters hosts a support group that meets every other Tuesday. For many, these groups are the only places to share a common experience in a society where suicide is still widely misunderstood and difficult to discuss.

Shelly Hampton moved to Lawrence to find support after her 15-year-old son, Blake, suddenly killed himself in 2001. Hampton said he was a happy, healthy teenager who drank too much alcohol one night and made a mistake.

“It’s one of those things people don’t want to talk about,” she said. “But it’s such a long-lasting hurt that you need people to turn to for support.”

Troubled by grief, feelings of guilt and questions, Hampton said she didn’t find much support where she was living in Pratt, west of Wichita, and counseling was not available to her. But she found what she was looking for at Headquarters.

“I just felt like this was a place where I fit,” she said. “People never get answers to the ‘why’ question. When I quit asking that question, it really helped.”

Some at Saturday’s meeting, like Hampton, had lost young children to sudden, unexplained suicides. Others had seen spouses and family members go through years of mental illnesses before an untimely death. Whatever the cause, most agreed that anger, blame and wondering what they might have done differently rarely helped.

The message those participants wanted to spread was that suicide needs to be openly discussed before tragedy happens, as well as after. Mental illness, they said, should be treated just like physical illnesses, such as cancer or heart disease, and not stigmatized. Many regretted that their loved ones never found lasting treatments for the chronic depressions that ultimately ended their lives.

No one at the meeting had easy answers. Rose Foster, a panelist who has been involved in the Headquarters support group for seven years, became a therapist after her husband, Gordon, took his own life in 2004.

Foster said she had met few people who could make sense of these losses on their own.

“We don’t have a blueprint for that,” she said. “We need that extra support. It’s an outlet in life where you can be real with other people and be honest.”

For more information, visit headquarterscounselingcenter.org.

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Lawrence community discussion about suicide prevention set for Monday

National Suicide Prevention Week is Sept. 9-15. Uploaded

National Suicide Prevention Week is Sept. 9-15. Uploaded by Karrey Britt

Suicide claims about 1 million lives worldwide each year, resulting in one suicide every 40 seconds. In the United States, one person dies by suicide every 14 minutes.

A community discussion about suicide prevention will be from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday in the Lawrence Public Library auditorium, 707 Vt., as part of World Suicide Prevention Day.

There will be a viewing of Kansas City Public Television's special on mental health and suicide awareness followed by discussion about what everyone can do to help prevent suicide.

Last year, there were 385 suicides in Kansas and seven in Douglas County.

The event was organized Lawrence's Headquarters Counseling Center, which has counselors who answer the state's 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The center also offers bereavement support for those who have lost a loved one to suicide.

When you — or someone you know — have thoughts of suicide, call Headquarters at 841-2345.

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Lawrence’s Headquarters Counseling Center receives $1.4 million grant for statewide suicide prevention

Headquarters Counseling Center director Marcia Epstein closes her eyes as she listens to a Wichita caller routed through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2009, at Headquarters. The center recently received a $1.4 million federal grant for statewide suicide prevention efforts.

Headquarters Counseling Center director Marcia Epstein closes her eyes as she listens to a Wichita caller routed through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2009, at Headquarters. The center recently received a $1.4 million federal grant for statewide suicide prevention efforts. by Nick Krug

Lawrence-based Headquarters Counseling Center recently received a federal three-year, $480,000 annual grant to help reduce suicide attempts and deaths among Kansans age 24 and younger.

The grant will be used to expand prevention activities across the state and to set up a resource center and website.

“The bottom line is we want more people to know what to do when somebody is at risk of suicide,” said Headquarters director Marcia Epstein. “This grant will save lives.”

Every day, at least one Kansan dies by suicide.

It is the second-leading cause of death among Kansans between the ages of 15 and 24, while nationally suicide ranks third in that group.

According to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, 234 suicide deaths occurred in that age range between 2007 and 2010; six of them were in Douglas County.

Epstein, who also serves as co-chair of the Suicide Prevention Subcommittee of the Governor’s Mental Health Services Planning Council, said the state has had no resources — funding or staff — dedicated to suicide prevention until now.

She said the grant will be used to hire staff, to provide mini-grants for community projects and to expand the number of phone lines and counselors answering the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline — 800-273-8255 — at Headquarters Counseling. The grant also will be used to provide Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training, or ASIST, which is used by the Kansas National Guard. It helps people know how to identify the warning signs and how to get people connected with the supports they need.

“It’s a very interactive course that’s been shown to get people to actually intervene in their community, not just know that suicide is a problem but to actually do something when they encounter somebody who is at risk of suicide,” Epstein said.

Headquarters is one of 23 state and tribal organizations to receive the Garrett Lee Smith and Tribal Suicide Prevention grant this year. The grant is funded through the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act. Garrett was a son of U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith, of Oregon, and in 2003, he died by suicide the day before his 22nd birthday.

Epstein said it was the senator’s passion to reach out to the younger population, but she said the statewide programming will have applications for all ages.

Headquarters may only use the federal grant for new statewide programming, so the 42-year-old nonprofit agency, which has an annual budget of about $200,000, will continue to rely on community donations and local grants for its services, which range from bereavement support groups to children’s safety programs. It has a 24-hour hotline that provides counseling services.

“Headquarters is much more than suicide prevention counseling, but this grant will strengthen our agency in many ways because it’s a huge opportunity and it’s a huge honor,” Epstein said.


SUICIDE PREVENTION

Marcia Epstein, director of Headquarters Counseling Center in Lawrence, says you can make a difference when someone shows signs of feeling suicidal. Here’s how:

• Listen and show you care.

• Ask the question, “Are you thinking about suicide?”

• For teens, find a trusted adult to help you both.

• For adults, find someone to be with the person and someone trained in suicide prevention to help.

• Eliminate access to firearms, large amounts of medications and other dangers.

• Never keep a secret about suicide.

• Know that suicide is never someone else’s fault.

Where to get help:

• Headquarters Counseling Center’s 24-hour service — 785-841-2345.

• National Suicide Prevention Life-Line — 800-273-8255.

• Bert Nash’s 24-hour service — 785-843-9192.

• Lawrence Memorial Hospital emergency room — 785-505-6100.

Reply 11 comments from Alceste Muzeick Insidestraight Karrey Britt Nsmels Lisa Rasor Brenda Brown Pfsmith Scott  Criqui

Bicyclists raising suicide awareness with cross-country tour that stops Monday in Lawrence

Zachary Chipps, left, and Thomas Brown, both of Scottsdale, Ariz., are bicycling across the country to raise awareness about suicide prevention. They both lost an older brother to suicide. Their journey began March 1, 2012, at the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge and will end Sept. 30, 2012, in Wappengers Falls, N.Y. They are pictured during a stop in Colorado. Chipps and Brown stopped in Lawrence in May.

Zachary Chipps, left, and Thomas Brown, both of Scottsdale, Ariz., are bicycling across the country to raise awareness about suicide prevention. They both lost an older brother to suicide. Their journey began March 1, 2012, at the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge and will end Sept. 30, 2012, in Wappengers Falls, N.Y. They are pictured during a stop in Colorado. Chipps and Brown stopped in Lawrence in May.

Two bicyclists will be stopping in Lawrence on Monday during their seven-month cross-country tour to raise awareness about suicide prevention.

Thomas Brown, 34, and Zachary Chipps, 31, met each other while working for the Parks and Recreation Department in Scottsdale, Ariz. It was a chance meeting that happened while they were waiting for a program to begin. During that conversation, they learned they liked the same music, so they exchanged numbers and eventually met for coffee. That’s when they learned they were both reading the same book, “Ishmael,” by Daniel Quinn, and they both had lost an older brother to suicide. They both were 24 when it happened.

“It lifted a lot of weight off my chest just to know somebody that I could have fellowship with,” Brown said.

Since then, they have formed a unique bond and decided to embark on the bicycling journey to help in their healing process and to reach out to others.

“Our intention is to go out and learn as much as we can from people, learn what’s working and what’s not working,” Brown said. “We also want to bring the message that the creative power that’s inside each and every person is kind of like a catalyst for change and growth and transcendence.”

Their journey, called Revolution Inspired by Self Evolution, or RISE, began March 1 by riding across the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge, a site of frequent suicides. Brown said a man rode with them across the bridge; he had lost his brother to suicide there.

“That was pretty emotional,” he said.

Since then, they’ve pedaled their way through California, New Mexico, Colorado and Nebraska. At first, they didn’t have a support vehicle, but now they do. They take turns driving and bicycling and they receive support from friends, family, churches and networks such as CouchSurfing and Warmshowers. They’ve also partnered with a nonprofit suicide prevention center in Tempe, Ariz.

“It has been the biggest challenge and the most rewarding thing I have ever done,” Chipps said. “It has been amazing.”

Chipps grew up in Hastings, Neb. He was close to his brother, Sean, who was nine years older.

“We were best friends and I looked up to him. I got his hand-me downs when we were growing up, and I wanted to be just like him,” he said. “That was a real scary thing that I had to deal with when he died. I was a lot like him and I realized his choices and the path he had chosen and ended it in, and I was like, ‘Wow. I’m going to have to make some changes here.’”

Brown said he and his brother, Marc, also were close. They played basketball and both cheered for the Jayhawks because their parents were originally from Kansas.

“I went from being the baby in the family to the only child,” Brown said. “One of the hardest things for me is knowing one of these days that I will have to bury my parents and I am not going to have my brother there with me.”

Brown said they have learned that they are far from alone. They have met many survivors of suicide and have learned that everyone heals differently.

“We can’t control what comes at us, but we can control how we deal with it,” he said. “We don’t all heal in the same way and that’s OK. We shouldn’t compare ourselves to other individuals and how they are healing. It’s also OK to have a bad day and it’s OK to say, ‘I need a helping hand right now.’”

David Moore, of rural Lawrence, praised the two men for helping to raise suicide awareness. One year ago, he lost his son Cassidy to suicide at age 23.

“If you would have looked at him and known him, you would have thought he had the world by the tail,” Moore said. “If it happened to him, it could happen to anyone.”

Cassidy Moore, a Baldwin High School graduate, died April 23, 2011, by suicide at age 23. He is survived by his parents and two younger brothers.

Cassidy Moore, a Baldwin High School graduate, died April 23, 2011, by suicide at age 23. He is survived by his parents and two younger brothers.

Moore is calling on fellow cyclists to help escort Brown and Chipps into town. He will be departing from the Lawrence Visitors Center, 402 N. Second St., at 11 a.m. Monday and riding about 25 miles out to meet them, and then they will escort them into town for a brief gathering at 3:30 p.m. at the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center, 111 E. 11th St.

“Let’s roll out the red carpet for these guys,” he said. “I am sure they are dragging about now and can use the support.”

For Brown, it will be sort of a second homecoming. He will be visiting with relatives here and in Wichita. He has been scattering his brother’s ashes along the journey and plans to leave some around Allen Fieldhouse. He also has his brother’s KU cap and plans to find a place to retire it.

Before leaving Omaha, Neb., on Thursday, Brown described the journey as magnificent.

“How long do you have?” he said, when asked to share special moments. “The scenery. The people. It has all just been amazing.”


JOIN THE JOURNEY

Thomas Brown and Zachary Chipps, both of Scottsdale, Ariz., are on a seven-month cross-country bicycle tour to raise awareness about suicide. They are going through 21 states and stopping in 110 cities.

They will be in Lawrence Monday through Wednesday. Headquarters Counseling Center, a suicide prevention center in Lawrence, has been coordinating efforts to welcome them to town. Headquarters invites the public to join the cause by:

Participating in the ride. A group of cyclists will leave the Lawrence Visitors Center, 402 N. Second St., at 11 a.m. They will ride out about 25 miles to greet them and escort them to town. The route will be along Highway 24 and then Highway 59, going north toward Oskaloosa. Brown and Chipps will be departing from Effingham at 11 a.m.

Attending a meet and greet. There will be a social gathering about 3:30 p.m. Monday at the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center, 111 E. 11th St., where the riders will stop in town. The gathering will migrate to Johnny’s Tavern in North Lawrence until early evening.

Joining a potluck and meeting. The event will be from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at Trinity Lutheran Church, 1245 N.H. There will be a brief program where the bicyclists will talk about their journey.

The City of Lawrence has proclaimed the week of May 6-12 as Rise Phoenix Week in honor of the cyclists and their mission.

For more information, call Headquarters Counseling Center at 841-2345 or visit its Facebook page.


SUICIDE PREVENTION

Marcia Epstein, director of Headquarters Counseling Center in Lawrence, says you can make a difference when someone shows signs of feeling suicidal. Here’s how:

• Listen and show you care.

• Ask the question, “Are you thinking about suicide?”

• For teens, find a trusted adult to help you both.

• For adults, find someone to be with the person and someone trained in suicide prevention to help.

• Eliminate access to firearms, medications and other dangers.

• Never keep a secret about suicide.

• Know that suicide is never someone else’s fault.

Where to get help:

• Headquarters Counseling Center’s 24-hour service, 785-841-2345.

• National Suicide Prevention Life-Line, 800-273-8255.

• Bert Nash’s 24-hour service, 785-843-9192.

• Lawrence Memorial Hospital emergency room, 785-505-6100.

• KU Child and Family Services Clinic, 785-864-4416.

• DCCCA (outpatient drug and alcohol treatment center), 785-830-8238.

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Community invited to workshop about suicide prevention, bereavement help

Karen Dillon, of Vinland, lights a candle to remember her son, Dakota Dillon Pite, who died by suicide. Her daughter, Annabel, 5, also lights a candle to remember her older brother. They were among about 30 people who participated in a National Survivors of Suicide event Saturday, Nov. 20, 2010, at First United Methodist Church in downtown Lawrence.

Karen Dillon, of Vinland, lights a candle to remember her son, Dakota Dillon Pite, who died by suicide. Her daughter, Annabel, 5, also lights a candle to remember her older brother. They were among about 30 people who participated in a National Survivors of Suicide event Saturday, Nov. 20, 2010, at First United Methodist Church in downtown Lawrence. by Richard Gwin

About 35,000 Americans die by suicide each year. That’s one person every 15 minutes.

In Kansas, it’s one person every day.

On Nov. 19, International Survivors of Suicide Day, the community is invited to attend a workshop in Lawrence about suicide prevention and suicide bereavement support.

Participants will have the opportunity to view a national broadcast of a discussion among survivors and mental health professionals. The national broadcast will be followed by discussion with a panel of survivors from the community.

Marcia Epstein, director of Headquarters Counseling Center, said participants will leave with a better understanding of the impact of suicide loss, and how to be helpful to those who are bereaved.

The event will be:

• From 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 19.

• At First United Methodist Church, 946 Vt., in Brady Fellowship Hall.

• Reservations are encouraged but not required, and can be done by emailing Epstein at me@hqcc.lawrence.ks.us.

Karen Smart, Lawrence, talks about her late son Jacob Wessel after attending a National Survivors of Suicide Day event Saturday, Nov. 20, 2010, in downtown Lawrence. Her son died by suicide on April 19, 2010, at age 15. She made a mini-collage of Jacob's pictures, at left.

Karen Smart, Lawrence, talks about her late son Jacob Wessel after attending a National Survivors of Suicide Day event Saturday, Nov. 20, 2010, in downtown Lawrence. Her son died by suicide on April 19, 2010, at age 15. She made a mini-collage of Jacob's pictures, at left. by Richard Gwin

Here are links to stories from last year's event:

Survivors of suicide share stories, laughs, tears.

• 62-year-old Anita Burkhalter, of Lawrence, talks about the loss of her husband after 23 years of marriage.

• 43-year-old Karen Smart, of Lawrence, talks about the loss of her 15-year-old son.

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Lawrence resident describes life before, after suicide attempt

Just over a year ago, Susan Hamlet jumped into the water just above the Kansas River dam in North Lawrence and was swept away.

She ended up under the waterfall, and a rescue worker was able to talk her into grabbing his helping hand.

“After it was over, I remember thanking God. I wasn’t angry for surviving. I was very thankful,” the Lawrence resident said.

During an hour-long interview, Hamlet, 44, sat at her dining room table and described the events leading up to her suicide attempt on Sept. 24, 2010, as well as her road to recovery.

•••

In spring 2010, Hamlet was married and a stay-at-home mother of two girls, ages 9 and 5. Her husband of six years was working in Iraq as a contractor. She was looking forward to his return home.

“I was very much in love,” she said. “I thought we were very, very happy.”

In May 2010, she was served divorce papers and that’s when her life, she felt, begin to spiral out of control.

“There was lots of crying, lots of tears … things that the kids shouldn’t have seen. Mommy started losing it. I started having a nervous breakdown,” she said.

As a result, she lost custody of the children in June to her husband’s parents. Then, she had to move out of their home in August.

“I had no money. I didn’t know where I was going to go, what I was going to do, how I was going to get the children back,” she said. “I felt like I had no one, like I had nothing. I was in so much pain that I didn’t want to feel the pain anymore.”

On the afternoon of Sept. 24, she left her mobile home in North Lawrence and meant to walk across the bridge that connects North Lawrence to downtown, but instead went down to the river. She said it was like an out-of-body experience.

“I wasn’t planning on jumping in the river, but once I got there I thought that was the thing to do,” she said. “I was seeing what I was doing but I wasn’t rationalizing. The feeling is hard to explain.”

She jumped into the water and was swept away by the current. She remembers fighting for air and thinking, “Oh my God, Susan, you are going to die.”

When she landed, she stood on a ledge behind the waterfall, then she began to walk across the ledge but saw a snake and headed back. She believes God sent that snake there for a reason — to save her life.

“I was out of my mind crazy,” she said. Shivering and cold, she started to pray. That’s when she remembers a kind, gentle voice and a hand reaching out to help her.

“He had to coax me out and he said some very kinds words,” she said. “I don’t know who he was and I wish there was some way that I could thank him.”

Emergency response personnel comfort Susan Hamlet who was removed from underneath the spillway following a water rescue Friday, Sept. 24, 2010, on the north side of the Kansas River.

Emergency response personnel comfort Susan Hamlet who was removed from underneath the spillway following a water rescue Friday, Sept. 24, 2010, on the north side of the Kansas River. by Nick Krug

•••

She was taken to Lawrence Memorial Hospital where she was treated for water on her lungs, and placed on suicide watch.

“By the grace of God, the only injury I had was a little, tiny cut on my wrist,” she said.

She said she was transferred to Osawatomie State Hospital where she was put in the "suicide ward" for 10 days.

“It was terrifying,” she said. But it was there where she came to realize what had happened and got the help that she needed.

Hamlet said she was widowed in 2000 when her first husband was murdered in Kansas City.

“So, lots of trauma in my life,” she said. “I just self-medicated.”

When she left the state hospital, she said she found help from people she least expected, including an old neighbor who gave her a place to live.

For the past year, she has been receiving help from Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center and was assigned a case manager who is helping her get back on her feet with a job and home.

She talks to her daughters every night and sees them as often as she can. She and her husband are working on a joint custody settlement.

“I’m starting this new life and realizing that life is worth living,” she said. “I just want people to know that there are people at there that you least expect that do care and you just have to share how you are feeling.”

It has been just over a year since Lawrence resident Susan Hamlet was pulled from the Kansas River spillway by emergency crews after an attempted suicide. According to Hamlet, news of her pending divorce and the temporary loss of custody of her children had pushed her beyond her limits. After seeking help through Bert Nash Hamlet explained that she is in the process of recovery and is making progress toward getting her life back together.

It has been just over a year since Lawrence resident Susan Hamlet was pulled from the Kansas River spillway by emergency crews after an attempted suicide. According to Hamlet, news of her pending divorce and the temporary loss of custody of her children had pushed her beyond her limits. After seeking help through Bert Nash Hamlet explained that she is in the process of recovery and is making progress toward getting her life back together. by Nick Krug

•••

Dr. Juliet Nelson, a psychologist at Bert Nash, said Hamlet is not alone.

She sees between eight and 12 people daily in the intensive outpatient program and most are suicidal to some extent. She said depression affects all ages, races and incomes. She sees everyone from the homeless to the Kansas University professor.

Nelson said people can become disconnected from their emotions and that’s when they feel like they are watching themselves from above. She said it’s a scary state. For example, she said you can watch yourself cutting yourself but not feel it.

“It’s dangerous for us to not be able to feel and so it’s very frightening to people when they get to the point,” she said.

Nelson said people “absolutely” can recover from a mental illness, just like a physical one. She said there’s a lot of different treatments that work for different people, so if a treatment or therapist doesn’t work, try another.

“Don’t give up,” she said.

Nelson said people used to avoid the s-word, but now treatment focuses on talking about suicide instead of avoiding it. The same advice holds true for family and friends.

“If someone goes into the hospital and has their gall bladder removed, we bring them a casserole. But when someone gets out because of a suicide attempt, nobody knows what to do,” Nelson. “Well, you bring them a casserole. You don’t have to act as if it’s a terrible thing that you don’t have to talk about.”


SUICIDE PREVENTION

Marcia Epstein, director of Headquarters Counseling Center in Lawrence, says you can make a difference when someone shows signs of feeling suicidal. Here’s how:

• Listen and show you care.

• Ask the question, “Are you thinking about suicide?”

• For teens, find a trusted adult to help you both.

• For adults, find someone to be with the person and someone trained in suicide prevention to help.

• Eliminate access to firearms, large amounts of medications and other dangers.

• Never keep a secret about suicide.

• Know that suicide is never someone else’s fault.

Where to get help:

• Bert Nash’s 24-hour service — 785-843-9192.

• National Suicide Prevention Life-Line — 800-273-8255.

• Headquarters Counseling Center’s 24-hour service — 785-841-2345.

• Lawrence Memorial Hospital emergency room — 785-505-6100.

• KU Child and Family Services Clinic — 785-864-4416.

• DCCCA (outpatient drug and alcohol treatment center) — 785-830-8238.

Did you know?

• About 35,000 Americans die by suicide each year, or one person every 15 minutes.

• Males take their own lives at nearly four times the rate of females, but women attempt suicide about two to three times as often as men.

• Among males, adults age 85 and older have the highest rate of suicide.

• Among females, those in their 40s and 50s have the highest rate of suicide.

• About 87 percent of people who complete suicide have a mental health disorder.

In Kansas:

• 376 people died by suicide in 2009 — 309 men and 67 women.

• 46 — average age.

In Douglas County:

• 23 people died in 2010 by suicide according to the Douglas County Coroner.

• It is estimated that 3.7 percent of the adult population, or 336 people, had considered committing suicide in the past year.

• 1 percent, or 910 people, had made a suicide plan in the past year.

• 0.5 percent, or 455 people, had attempted suicide in the past year.

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Headquarters Counseling Center director discusses its services, suicide prevention

Marcia Epstein, director of Headquarters Counseling Center, participates in an online chat Monday, Dec. 7, 2010, at The News Center, 645 N.H.

Marcia Epstein, director of Headquarters Counseling Center, participates in an online chat Monday, Dec. 7, 2010, at The News Center, 645 N.H. by Karrey Britt

Marcia Epstein, director of Headquarters Counseling Center, answered questions about the center’s services and about suicide prevention.

She provided a list of signs that indicate someone may need help and how to help. She also talked about her mother’s suicide and how to reach out to others who lost someone to suicide.

To read the transcript of the chat, click here on WellCommons.com.

If you have suggestion for a health-related chat, please contact me at kbritt@ljworld.com.

Gene Meyer, CEO and president of Lawrence Memorial Hospital, will be available Monday to answer questions. He can answer questions about the hospital, its area family practices, health reform, electronic medical records and more. Submit your questions today at WellCommons.com/chats.

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Lawrence mother talks about her 15-year-old son’s suicide

Karen Smart, Lawrence, talks about her late son Jacob Wessel after attending a National Survivors of Suicide Day event Saturday, Nov. 20, 2010, in downtown Lawrence. Her son died by suicide on April 19, 2010, at age 15. She made a mini-collage of Jacob's pictures, at left.

Karen Smart, Lawrence, talks about her late son Jacob Wessel after attending a National Survivors of Suicide Day event Saturday, Nov. 20, 2010, in downtown Lawrence. Her son died by suicide on April 19, 2010, at age 15. She made a mini-collage of Jacob's pictures, at left. by Richard Gwin

Fifteen-year-old Jacob Wessel was smart, athletic and popular.

He was a freshman at Nemaha Valley High School in Seneca, a small town northwest of Topeka.

On April 19, 2010, just after midnight, Jacob shot himself with a rifle in his bedroom.

“I ask myself all of the time, ‘Why?’” his mother Karen Smart, 43, of Lawrence, said. “And, we don’t know why. We will never know why.”

Smart and her sister, Linda Kiernan, attended the National Survivors of Suicide Day event Saturday in Lawrence. Smart brought a mini-collage of Jacob’s pictures. There were photos of him as a baby, in a football uniform, visiting a pumpkin patch, and at a winter formal.

“The thing that’s most shocking is that we had been living with him and spending all of this time with him, and we had no idea that he was in any kind of pain whatsoever,” she said.

Jacob was close to his older brother, Austin. They drove to school and played football together.

The night before Jacob died, the brothers were scheming to pull a prank on their father and stepmother. They were going to take a bunch of condoms and stuff them in the couch cushions.

“That was the last conversation Jacob and his brother had, and they were laughing and joking about what they were going to do,” Smart said.

•••

After his death, his family learned that he had been planning to commit suicide.

“He apparently had told a lot of his friends that he hated his life and didn’t want to live anymore,” Smart said. “But, we would have never known this from the image he projected when he was home.”

They found a school notebook. Inside, he had drawn a picture of how he was going to kill himself.

He had left subtle messages on his Facebook page.

Smart reached down into her purse and pulled out a handful of Jacob’s things. They were items that he had carried in his school backpack. Among them: a toy car that he had glued together, a first-place medal in long jump, and a little yellow pad of sticky notes.

She flipped through the pages. He had drawn pictures on every page. It was his story of suicide. It showed a person being shot with a gun and a happy face that disappeared.

“We feel helpless because we didn’t know anything,” Smart said. “I think it’s just a delicate time for a lot of teenagers. There’s just so many things going on in their lives that we don’t even know about as parents.”

•••

Smart said her son’s death has caused a lot of pain.

“The school was totally devastated,” she said. “The kids continue to go out to his grave. It’s just covered with stuff.”

They leave messages on his Facebook page every day.

“It’s just unbelievable how much pain he caused everybody by doing that,” she said. “It doesn’t seem that a day goes by that you don’t cry.”

Smart said the 15th annual family trip to Schaake’s pumpkin patch near Lawrence was particularly difficult.

“It was really hard because I just felt like Jacob was there walking around helping us pick out pumpkins,” she said, as tears rolled down her cheeks.

Thanksgiving was Jacob’s favorite holiday. He liked spending it with his brother, his mother and her husband, Dean, in Lawrence. Smart hasn’t decided whether she will set a place for Jacob or not.

She has attended the “Healing After Suicide” support group in Lawrence for about four months.

“I think it is my new therapy. It is nice to be around people who understand the pain that you go through,” she said.

She has good and bad days.

“It’s funny how you kind of drift in and out of ‘Gosh, I feel good today and you know, I was a good parent’ to ‘What could I have done?’”


SUPPORT AVAILABLE

The “Healing After Suicide” support group meets every other Tuesday evening. It is free. For information, contact Marcia Epstein, director of Headquarters Counseling Center, at 841-2345 or me@hqcc.lawrence.ks.us.

She also meets with teens and adults seeking support or information. She can suggest or loan books about suicide bereavement for children, teens and adults.


HELPFUL RESOURCES

• Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center’s 24-hour service — 843-9192.

• National Suicide Prevention Life-Line — 800-273-8255.

• Headquarters Counseling Center’s 24-hour service — 841-2345.

• Lawrence Memorial Hospital emergency room — 505-6100.

• KU Child and Family Services Clinic — 864-4416.

• DCCCA (outpatient drug and alcohol treatment center) — 841-4138.

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Lawrence resident talks about her husband’s suicide after 23 years of marriage

Anita Burkhalter, of Lawrence, takes a moment to collect her thoughts as she talks about her late husband, Phillip. She attended the National Survivors of Suicide Day event Saturday, Nov. 20, 2010, in downtown Lawrence.

Anita Burkhalter, of Lawrence, takes a moment to collect her thoughts as she talks about her late husband, Phillip. She attended the National Survivors of Suicide Day event Saturday, Nov. 20, 2010, in downtown Lawrence. by Richard Gwin

Anita Burkhalter found her husband of 23 years on the house deck that he had built years earlier.

He had used a .22-caliber revolver to shoot himself.

“Even now, that image is in my head,” she said, crying.

“I remember my first thought was, ‘How could you do this to us?’” she said. “We were extremely close. He was a wonderful, wonderful husband.”

He died March 2, 2008, at age 67.

Burkhalter, 62, shared her story after a National Survivors of Suicide Day event in downtown Lawrence. She feels it is important to be open and honest about her husband’s death.

“Maybe this will prevent somebody else from going through this, and make his death have something positive come out of it,” she said.

•••

Her husband, Phillip David Burkhalter, was a cowboy and taught agriculture science. During his career, he worked at an alternative school in Oklahoma, where they lived at the time of his death.

“He was very gifted with young people with problems,” Anita said.

Nine years before his death, he was injured by a student. The injury caused major damage to Phillip’s back that left him in chronic pain.

Anita believes he suffered depression because of the pain.

“Phillip was a very macho cowboy type. He always took charge of everything, and saw it as a sign of weakness to admit that he was in any pain,” she said. “He had the attitude that there wasn’t nothing he couldn’t do if he wanted to do it.”

She said he worked full-time even though he was in pain. Two months before he died, she said, he did something to make his injury worse. It became difficult for him to drive and do the things that he liked to do.

“I had seen him with the sweat rolling off of his head from the pain,” she said.

They decided to try surgery. It was unsuccessful.

On Valentine’s Day — just weeks before he died — Phillip had given Anita a card that talked about how they could do anything together as long as they were together.

“So, I never suspected that he might commit suicide,” she said.

•••

On the day he died, Anita said he had asked her to quit working on the computer, so he could lay down on the hospital bed that was in the den.

She said, “Just a minute,” and kept working.

“He said he was going to go for a walk, and when he didn’t return after an hour or so, I went looking for him,” she said.

For the next two years, she lived in what she calls a fog. She went through the what ifs: What if she had hidden the revolver? What if she had quit working on the computer?

“It was like I was outside of myself. It was like watching it from a distance,” she said.

During the first year, she focused on her job. She said it allowed her to put the grieving aside.

“About a year into it, I fell apart — totally emotionally fell apart. My health suffered dramatically,” she said.

She gained weight, her blood pressure was high and she was sick a lot.

Today, Anita said she realizes it was not about her.

“It was about him and his pain. But, I will never make sense of it,” she said. “But, it truly doesn’t matter if I make sense of it anymore. The reality is: It is what it is.”

On April 1, she retired and moved to Lawrence to be closer to relatives who live in eastern Nebraska. Anita and Phillip, who have no children, had lived in Lawrence for one year in the early 1990s. Anita said she liked the culture and diversity of Lawrence.

“I am very glad I moved to Lawrence,” she said.

She initially thought it would be a new life and fresh start. She would no longer need to attend survivor support group meetings because she was “moving on.”

But, it’s wasn’t that easy.

She found the “Healing After Suicide” support group in Lawrence. She said the members help her and she is able to help them.

•••

Anita said the most important thing to her is that Phillip is remembered for who he was — not for his chronic pain or how he died.

She described him as tender-hearted, passionate and a doer. He supported her decision to go back to college later in life.

She remembers asking him to dig up a rose bush with deep roots. So he put a rope around it and tied it to his truck, she said, laughing. The rose bush went flying and hit the truck and caused hundreds of dollars in damage. The incident became a family joke.

He loved jalapeño peppers. So, the family eats them in his honor whether the peppers go with the meal or not.

Every time Anita hears a George Strait song, she thinks of her husband. She joked about how crazy she feels driving down the highway and just bawling because a George Strait song is on the radio.

“Even though it ended the way it ended, I wouldn’t have changed a moment of my life with him,” she said, with tears streaming down her cheeks. “I feel richly blessed that he was in my life.”


SUPPORT AVAILABLE

The “Healing After Suicide” support group meets every other Tuesday evening. It is free. For information, contact Marcia Epstein, director of Headquarters Counseling Center, at 841-2345 or me@hqcc.lawrence.ks.us.

She also meets with teens and adults seeking support or information. She can suggest or loan books about suicide bereavement for children, teens and adults.


HELPFUL RESOURCES

• Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center’s 24-hour service — 843-9192.

• National Suicide Prevention Life-Line — 800-273-8255.

• Headquarters Counseling Center’s 24-hour service — 841-2345.

• Lawrence Memorial Hospital emergency room — 505-6100.

• KU Child and Family Services Clinic — 864-4416.

• DCCCA (outpatient drug and alcohol treatment center) — 841-4138.

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Survivors of suicide share stories, laughs, tears during Lawrence event

Karen Dillon, of Vinland, lights a candle to remember her son, Dakota Dillon Pite, who died by suicide. Her daughter, Annabel, 5, also lights a candle to remember her older brother. They were among about 30 people who participated in a National Survivors of Suicide event Saturday, Nov. 20, 2010, at First United Methodist Church in downtown Lawrence.

Karen Dillon, of Vinland, lights a candle to remember her son, Dakota Dillon Pite, who died by suicide. Her daughter, Annabel, 5, also lights a candle to remember her older brother. They were among about 30 people who participated in a National Survivors of Suicide event Saturday, Nov. 20, 2010, at First United Methodist Church in downtown Lawrence. by Richard Gwin

About 30 survivors of suicide gathered today at First United Methodist Church in downtown Lawrence.

They shared stories, a few laughs and many tears. They found comfort in knowing they were not alone.

During the three-hour National Survivors of Suicide Day event, they were invited to light a votive candle in remembrance of their loved ones. Among them:

• A woman lit one for her husband and two more for his siblings.

• A father lit two candles for two sons.

• A pastor lit three candles. One each for his dad, uncle, and “too many university students.”

• A woman lit a candle for her brother.

• A woman lit a candle for her grandson and another for her nephew.

After the ceremony, Marcia Epstein, director of Headquarters Counseling Center, said, “Look at the light and feel the love.”

She began the ceremony by lighting a candle for her mother.

Headquarters Counseling Center’s “Healing After Suicide” group and the church hosted the event.

During the first 90 minutes, participants watched a national panel of survivors discuss their experiences. It was viewed simultaneously by other groups throughout the country, including five other sites in Kansas.

The facilitator Eric Marcus, New York City, lost his 44-year-old father to suicide when he was 12. His sister-in-law also died by suicide.

The panelists included:

• Peggy Marshall, Dallas, whose husband of 18 years died by suicide.

• Gregg Keesling, Indianapolis, whose 25-year-old son died while serving in Iraq.

• Lucia Skinner, of Mountain View, Calif., whose son died at age 17 by jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge.

• Lee-Ann Foster, of Portland, Ore., whose sister died at age 21.

They talked about their loved ones, how they learned about their deaths, what life was like in the days after their deaths, and how they are coping today.

While watching the video, Lawrence participants shed tears. Many said they could relate to what they heard. Indeed, they were not alone.

Every 16 minutes someone in the United States dies by suicide. Every 17 minutes someone is left to make sense of it.

Every day, a Kansan dies by suicide.

Every month, one or two people die by suicide in Douglas County.

After a short break, the local group of survivors lit candles and had their own panel discussion.

Those on the panel were:

• Rose Eiesland Foster, who lost her husband.

• Fred Eiesland, who lost his son.

• The Rev. Thad Holcombe, who lost his father and uncle.

• Anita Burkhalter, who lost her husband.

The panel and those in the audience had a dialogue about what it’s like to lose a loved one. Like the national panel, they talked about the "what ifs" and NEVER knowing why. In hindsight, some said there were signs and others said there were not.

Holcombe encouraged the group to talk about their experiences and to celebrate their loved ones lives.

The survivors shared their coping strategies. Among them:

• Be honest with feelings.

• Faith.

• Laugh.

• Talk about it.

• Think about positives.

Eiesland Foster said she had breast cancer when her husband had a mental illness. She said she received visits, flowers and support. Her husband received "nothing."

Now, she is pursuing a degree in social work to help people who suffer from depression and other mental illnesses.

"I want to treat them with the dignity and respect that they deserve," she said.

Years ago, people didn't talk about cancer. Now, they do. The hope is that people will start talking about mental illness and suicide.


SUPPORT AVAILABLE

The “Healing After Suicide” support group meets every other Tuesday evening. It is free. For information, contact Epstein at 841-2345 or me@hqcc.lawrence.ks.us.

She also meets with teens and adults seeking support or information. She can suggest or loan books about suicide bereavement for children, teens and adults.


PERSONAL STORIES

• 62-year-old Anita Burkhalter, of Lawrence, talks about the loss of her husband after 23 years of marriage.

• 43-year-old Karen Smart, of Lawrence, talks about the loss of her 15-year-old son.


HELPFUL RESOURCES

• Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center’s 24-hour service — 843-9192.

• National Suicide Prevention Life-Line — 800-273-8255.

• Headquarters Counseling Center’s 24-hour service — 841-2345.

• Lawrence Memorial Hospital emergency room — 505-6100.

• KU Child and Family Services Clinic — 864-4416.

• DCCCA (outpatient drug and alcohol treatment center) — 841-4138.

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State health officer addresses suicide prevention with personal story

During the past week, I have written and thought a lot about suicide prevention. Not surprising, since National Suicide Prevention Week was Sept. 5-11.

I am taking a Mental Health First Aid course at Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center and the first session on Sept. 7 addressed suicide prevention.

The next night, I attended a community presentation on suicide prevention at Lawrence Memorial Hospital. David Litts, of the national Suicide Prevention Resource Center, spoke about how to help friends, family and co-workers.

Today, I received an e-mail regarding Dr. Jason Eberhart-Phillips' blog. The topic: Preventing the Tragedy of Suicide. Not only did our state health officer share a personal story, but offered some great advice.

But, before I share his blog, I want to share a story from the presentation at LMH. I was reminded of the powerful message at my Mental Health First Aid meeting last night:

A young man was planning to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge. He was crying and he was hoping someone — ANYONE — would ask him, "Are you OK?" Instead, a woman asked if he could take a picture. He ended up jumping and miraculously survived. The lessons that I've learned during the past week are that we need to be a kinder, caring community. Not only does it brighten someone's day, but you never know when a small gesture just might save a life.

Here is Eberhart-Phillips' column:

Dr. Jason Eberhart-Phillips

Dr. Jason Eberhart-Phillips

I will never forget the deep sense of shock I felt when I heard that my sister-in-law had stepped in front of a high-speed train in order to kill herself.

This attractive young woman seemed to have everything to live for. She was a kind and loving wife, and was a talented artist. Beyond this, she was someone who was always quick with a smile and open to others with her big, caring heart.

My sister-in-law was the last person I would have considered to be at risk for suicide.

Now, several years later, the stigma and the pervasive sense of shame around her horrific death still lingers. But today I am not nearly so ignorant about the thoughts and feelings that might lead a loved one toward lethal self-injury.

I now recognize what an enormous – and potentially preventable – public health problem suicide is.

Consider these facts:

• On average, one person in Kansas commits suicide every day. For each successful attempt, there are about 20 others who wind up in the hospital with self-inflicted injuries.

• Suicide is most common in middle-aged and older adults, but suicide attempts peak in Kansas in persons 15 to 19 years of age. Males are 4.6 times more likely to die of suicide than females, and Non-Hispanic whites are more than twice as likely to die of suicide than are Non-Hispanic blacks or Hispanics of any race.

• Since the 1950s, suicide rates among adolescents and young adults have tripled. More teenagers and young adults die today from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, pneumonia and influenza combined.

• Suicide is now the 11th leading cause of death in Kansas, and our state’s rate of suicide is 13 percent higher than the national average.

What leads some people to kill themselves?

More than 90 percent of people who die from suicide have either a serious mental health disorder, such as major depression, or problems with substance abuse, particularly with alcohol. Many have both of these risk factors, but some have neither. In my sister-in-law’s case it was major depression, which I was unaware of.

Against a background of elevated risk, one’s feelings of purposelessness, hopelessness and isolation can give rise to thoughts that death is preferable to life as it is now being lived. Many who attempt suicide sincerely believe that they have become such a burden to others that it would be better for everyone if they were dead.

Fortunately, most people who feel this way never act upon such thoughts. But a few, particularly those who have suffered trauma or abuse in the past, or have repeatedly witnessed violence, or have already attempted suicide themselves, can overcome their innate resistance to self-harm and become dreadfully capable of taking their own lives.

In these individuals, a suicide attempt will often follow on the heels of a triggering event, such as a broken relationship, a financial loss or a sudden decline in health. Accessibility of firearms, pills or other lethal means will then heighten the risk further.

What can be done to reduce the risk of suicide?

First, we can all learn the signs of acute suicide risk. Does your family member, coworker, neighbor or friend exhibit signs of lost hope, social withdrawal, agitation, or worsening substance abuse? Are they talking about suicide or seeking lethal means? Pay particular attention if they have suffered from a triggering event recently.

If you see any of these signs, or suspect them, ask the person in a non-judgmental way if she or he is thinking about suicide. Don’t worry that bringing up the topic of suicide will plant the idea in the person’s mind.

Just ask and listen for the reply. You could well be saving a life if you do.

If it turns out that the answer is yes, see that the person gets immediate help from their physician, mental health professional, or from the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, available 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). And stay with them until they are safe.

In the long-term, we can prevent more suicides in Kansas by addressing many of the root causes of self-harm. We can build resilience in people at risk, by ensuring that they can access mental health and substance abuse treatment services, and by making sure that their primary care providers have the best training in recognizing suicide risk.

We can also do more to strengthen our connectedness as people, countering the isolation and self-doubt that commonly plagues people who are contemplating suicide. That means greater investment in social capital, whether it’s in civic organizations, faith communities or informal clubs and networks.

Our greatest protection against suicide is a caring community. I wish my sister-in-law had felt that care in time.

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Light a candle tonight for suicide prevention

Today is International Suicide Prevention Day.

Everyone is encouraged to light a candle near a window at 8 p.m. to show support for suicide prevention, to remember a lost loved one, and for survivors of suicide.

In Kansas, one person dies by suicide EVERY DAY. Someone died today.

Here are some other ways to join the cause in our community:

Headquarters Counseling Center is having its third annual Poker Run called “Life Support Ride” on Sunday. Registration begins at 11 a.m. and the ride starts at noon from Biemer’s BBQ, 2120 W. Ninth St. Stops include: Helen’s Hilltop in Tonganoxie, High Noon Saloon in Leavenworth, Kobi’s in Bonner Springs, and Johnny’s Tavern. Suggested donation is $20 for first poker hand, and $5 each extra hand. No pre-registration required.

Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center offers a 12-hour Mental Health First Aid course over four weeks, and it is open to anyone. The first class covers suicide prevention. The cost is $25 and includes a manual and snacks. Classes are from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on the second floor of Bert Nash, 200 Maine. Classes have been scheduled for: Oct. 4, 11, 18 and 25; and Nov. 1, 8, 15 and 22. To sign up or for more information, contact Lauren Greib at lgreib@bertnash.org or call 830-1837. I am currently taking this class and plan to post more about suicide prevention this weekend.


As I lit two candles tonight, I thought about those who had died by suicide. The more I thought about it, the more people I remembered:

• Two high school students while I was in junior high school.

• Two middle-aged Kansas farmers/ranchers.

• A college student who lived in an apartment complex next to my boyfriend (now husband).

• A friend of my husband's grandfather.

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Seminar helps educate community about suicide prevention

Lawrence clinical social worker John Fittell listens during a suicide prevention seminar Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2010, at Lawrence Memorial Hospital. Litts talked about the risk factors and warning signs associated with suicide and also preventative measures.

Lawrence clinical social worker John Fittell listens during a suicide prevention seminar Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2010, at Lawrence Memorial Hospital. Litts talked about the risk factors and warning signs associated with suicide and also preventative measures. by Nick Krug

In our country, one person dies by suicide every 15 minutes.

In Kansas, one person dies by suicide every day.

In Douglas County, 10 people died by suicide during the first five months of this year.

“Suicide prevention starts with people being kind to each other, people paying attention to each other and with people being able to ask for help when they need it,” said Marcia Epstein, director of Headquarters Counseling Center in Lawrence and chair of the state’s Suicide Prevention Committee.

As part of National Suicide Prevention Week, Headquarters Counseling Center and Lawrence Memorial Hospital sponsored a suicide prevention seminar Wednesday night at the hospital. About 30 people attended the seminar that was presented by David Litts, of the National Suicide Prevention Resource Center.

David Litts, director of Science and Policy at the national Suicide Prevention Resource Center, gives a presentation "Preventing the Suicide of Someone You Know, Someone You Love," Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2010, at Lawrence Memorial Hospital.

David Litts, director of Science and Policy at the national Suicide Prevention Resource Center, gives a presentation "Preventing the Suicide of Someone You Know, Someone You Love," Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2010, at Lawrence Memorial Hospital. by Nick Krug

He went over risk factors, warning signs and what to do if someone is contemplating suicide.

“Suicide is preventable,” he said. “If people would equip themselves — similar to the way we’ve taught people to do CPR and Heimlich maneuvers — they can detect people who are at risk for suicide and they as an individual can intervene by asking them directly, ‘Have you been thinking about suicide?’”

It’s the hardest question to ask, he said, but it can save a life.

During the presentation, he presented statistics, such as:

• White males, 85 and older, have the highest suicide rate of any group in the country. But, he emphasized, suicide doesn’t discriminate.

• One million people attempt suicide each year, and 500,000 are hospitalized.

• Eight million people seriously think about taking their life each year.

For more information on suicide prevention, contact Headquarters Counseling Center at www.hqcc.lawrence.ks.us or 841-2345, which is a 24/7 hotline.


JOIN THE CAUSE

International Suicide Prevention Day is Friday. Everyone is encouraged to light a candle near a window at 8 p.m. to show support for suicide prevention, to remember a lost loved one, and for survivors of suicide.

• Headquarters Counseling Center is having its third annual Poker Run called “Life Support Ride” on Sunday. Registration begins at 11 a.m. and the ride starts at noon from Biemer’s BBQ, 2120 W. Ninth St. Stops include: Helen’s Hilltop in Tonganoxie, High Noon Saloon in Leavenworth, Kobi’s in Bonner Springs, and Johnny’s Tavern. Suggested donation is $20 for first poker hand, and $5 each extra hand. No pre-registration required.

Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center offers a 12-hour Mental Health First Aid course over four weeks, and it is open to anyone. The first class covers suicide prevention. The cost is $25 and includes a manual and snacks. Classes are from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on the second floor of Bert Nash, 200 Maine. Classes have been scheduled for: Oct. 4, 11, 18 and 25; and Nov. 1, 8, 15 and 22. To sign up or for more information, contact Lauren Greib at lgreib@bertnash.org or call 830-1837. I am currently taking this class and plan to post more about suicide prevention this weekend.

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