[Photo: Hoke County Health Department staff hosted the suicide prevention symposium at the Robert A. Wright Agriculture Building in Raeford.]
By Catharin Shepard • Editor • If you’re worried someone is suicidal, the first step to helping may be just to ask the question.
That was a key takeaway from the county’s first suicide prevention symposium, Hoke County Health Department Social Work Supervisor Isley Cotton said.
“Ask the question. You can’t be afraid to ask the question, and you have to be intentional. You can’t dance around it, you can’t use fluffier words,” she said. “If you think a person is having issues with suicidal thoughts, ask them directly, that’s the main thing.”
The Health Department hosted the suicide prevention symposium Friday evening at the Robert A. Wright Agriculture Building in Raeford. The evening featured a panel discussion with a group of mental health professionals, plus testimonials from survivors and people who experienced losing someone to suicide.
Being able to talk about a difficult topic that is often taboo was “refreshing,” Cotton said.
“For me tonight was refreshing because the topic that is so stigmatized in our community, to be able to just talk about suicide in an open, safe space, really was refreshing for me and for the community. There are so many people who came out who would probably not be that comfortable speaking about suicide in other settings,” she said.
Members of the local faith community, elected officials, healthcare providers and many others attended the event, which packed the room for the evening. Vendors set up tables with information about services and mental health treatment options, as well as information about suicide prevention. One vendor came all the way from South Carolina to attend the event.
Raising awareness about suicide prevention was a big goal of the symposium.
“Awareness is the first thing. We want people to know it is okay to not be okay, as so many people said…and for them to know there is help and there is hope,” Cotton said. “I think sometimes we devalue ‘brain pain,’ because it’s not like a body ache.”
Sometimes people can end up in a place where they feel ending their life is the only way to end the pain, but “we heard something different tonight,” Cotton said.
“I just hope that this event fostered a sense of community among everyone, and they know that we’re all here to support each other. We’re in it together, we can’t do it without each other.”
The event grew out of a suicide prevention team established at the Hoke Health Department through grant funding. It was a team effort between the Health Department and several other health agencies.
The Health Department works to address suicide prevention in a number of other ways, too.
“We have a firearm safety team we have started at the Health Department, which we are connected to so many people. And that’s the thing, fostering the connection, so that we all know who is in the room, who does what, and we can make adequate referrals,” Cotton said.
For more information on suicide prevention, contact the Hoke County Health Department at (910) 875-3717.