Brittney Burns – Staff Writer

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. Each year, 42,773 Americans die by suicide, and in Macon County, health officials recognized suicide prevention and awareness as an area of focus this year.

To help raise awareness and to remember those lost to suicide, Holly Averett organized a Suicide Awareness event in Franklin.

“There were several goals for this event,” said Averett. “One purpose was to have those who have lost a loved one to suicide come together, show support to one another and let those recently affected by suicide know they are not alone. Another reason was to let people know it is ok to talk about it, and that it should be talked about. When people hear the word suicide, they seem to go silent. It shouldn’t be an awkward subject to talk about. And finally, to educate our community about the warning signs, risk factors, resources, etc. Since it is such a hushed subject, the lack of education on this topic is just not acceptable. People need to have at least an idea of what to say or do when someone is reaching out. And those reaching out need to know that it is ok to do so. There are people out there who care.”

Diedre Breeden, a professional counselor, spoke at the event and has worked with Averett to eliminate the stigmas associated with suicide.

“My hope for this event was to provide education to the community that would allow people to feel equipped to do something  about the epidemic of suicide,” said Breeden. “I want to empower people to reach out to those they realize are at risk, when the norm is to stay silent. I also wanted people who were hurting to feel comforted in knowing they’re not alone, and if they will reach out, they can get help.”

The World Health Organization reports over 800,000 people around the world die by suicide every year.  Efforts for spreading education, awareness and prevention are still very much necessary. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds. On average, 117 suicides happen every day. The highest suicide rate at 19.3 percent is among people ages 85 years or older. Other statistics show North Carolina’s rate of suicide falls just above the national average, and Macon County is ranked 7th in number of deaths by suicide within the state, which averages out to nearly two deaths by suicide within our community every month.

“Awareness is key,” said Breeden. “Right now, there is a stigma associated with mental health and suicide. We don’t talk about it, which doesn’t keep it at bay, it makes it worse. One of the societal myths surrounding suicide is, ‘if we talk about it, we might plant the idea in someone’s head.’ That is false. We need to educate ourselves on the warning signs and risk factors in particular. Sometimes there are no obvious warning signs, so if we know that someone is at risk  – previous history of attempts, family history of suicide, depression diagnosis, current significant stressors, etc. – we can reach out to them and hopefully stop something before it happens. If we don’t know the risk factors, we can’t get ahead of the problem. I also hoped to help attendees become aware of the resources available, but I want to stress that even if you don’t know exactly what to do to help, you can’t let that stop you from trying. There are multiple 24/7 suicide hotlines that can easily be found by doing a quick web search. Call them and let them help you link up with local resources if you’re not sure what else to do. Stigma’s don’t just disappear. We as a society have to make them go away. The only way we can do that in this situation is to talk about it; make people realize suicide is a permanent choice for temporary pain and that they have other options. Help people who struggle with suicidal thoughts to feel comfortable asking for help rather than feeling ashamed and feel as though they have to deal with it on their own. Suicide doesn’t pick and choose, and no one is immune from being affected. We have to work together to change this pattern.”

For immediate help:

•National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (24 hrs): 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

•Smoky Mountain Center Crisis hotline (local 24 hr line): 1-800-849-6127

•Crisis Text Line (24 hrs): Send a text to 741741 and a counselor will respond

Counseling: The Long Center for Psychology, PLLC, 258 Lopes Circle, Franklin, NC (828) 524-4110. The Long Center offers counseling services for children, adolescents, adults and families and has a staff of qualified therapists with a range of specialties to help meet your needs. Insurance is accepted as well as self-pay.