St. George – Country music fans recently saw one of its biggest stars turn out her bright light. Naomi Judd, the mother of half of the duo The Judds, committed suicide by herself.
What may be unusual for some is her age: 76 years.
But while many viewed suicide as something restricted to teens, Judd’s death highlights that the act of suicide sees no age limit. A new statewide campaign launched locally in St. George last week aims not only to de-stigma those who face mental health issues later in life, but also to give those around them the tools to help them live.
“Live in UtahCreated by the Utah Suicide Prevention Coalition of public and private partners as a campaign to build awareness and destigmatize mental health issues, prevent people from taking the toughest step to end their pain, and help loved ones and friends see signs of distress.
In southern Utah, the Live On campaign will be directed specifically at elderly residents of the area where there may be many Naomi Gods – making them look their best but struggling with depression and other issues that may make them consider ending their lives.
“Our seniors are very isolated. Sometimes they have a chronic illness or sometimes even a terminal illness. And so these things, they feel like maybe it’s a burden on their families,” Theresa Wylie, prevention specialist at Southwest Center for Behavioral Health, told St. George News. “They think they might be better off without them. We want them to know they still have value. They still have a purpose, and we want them here. We don’t want them just to live, but we want them to thrive and know how much they need and love.”
Wylie and other government officials held a launch event last Wednesday at the Southwest Center for Behavioral Health in St. George as part of National Mental Health Awareness Month. Washington County REACH4HOPE, which serves as the local arm of the Suicide Prevention Coalition, has received a government grant for a Live On campaign focused in southern Utah.
According to REACH4HOPE, local data shows that seniors in southern Utah are at high risk of suicide but are underserved with few resources and support to prevent suicide.
Willie said the new campaign will aim to change that. But the goal of building awareness will not be limited to people at risk of suicide so much as those who care for them.
“Part of this campaign is targeting people who are caregivers, family members, grandchildren or neighbors and are learning how to have a good conversation…how to connect,” Willy said. “How do you ask Grandma, ‘Grandma, you look really sad today. how can i help you?’ So get them out, talk to them, reach out to them and tell them it’s okay to talk about mental health issues.”
to me Statistics released last year By the Utah Suicide Prevention Coalition and the Utah Department of Health, teens are not the age group most likely to commit suicide in the state — those in middle age (35-64) followed by people 65 and older.
In an earlier interview, Michael Staley, the coordinator of suicide prevention research for the Utah Department of Health, said it was “a misnomer that suicide is primarily a problem for teens” and that the elderly population of southern Utah needs to be considered as much as mental health.
“It’s something to watch among friends and neighbors who are older residents of southern Utah,” Staley said. “Those over 65 may be at greater risk.”
But while they may be at greater risk, most suicide prevention efforts target adolescents
“When we see a teenager die by suicide, everyone is on their own. You know, people talk about it and try to solve problems. But when our seniors die, people don’t pay much attention,” Willie said. “Older people also belong to a generation where they don’t talk about mental health issues.”
signs of living
It wouldn’t be hard to see the Live On message across town. There will be live flags on the street poles of St. George Street. There will be public service and other announcements for Live On. And they can even be seen on the rear fenders of vehicles — thanks to a bill passed in the state’s latest legislature there will be a specialized Live On license plate that people can get for an extra $25 over a regular plate, with all proceeds going for the campaign.
“I think what we want to do is teach people how to have those conversations. If you go to the Live On website, or if you notice some street flags up on St. George Boulevard, it tells you exactly how you can do that, and make that conversation.
The words on street flags: go forward, extend your hand, raise, look ahead.
“If someone says I’m fine, we should ask them, ‘Are you really okay?'” Or tell me more about it,” Willis said. “We want to be able, in a kind, warm and loving way, to ask more questions, dig a little deeper, and see if someone is really OK or if they just startled you.”
The one for whom the campaign seems right is St. George Mayor Michel Randall.
March 28, 2016, you will be with her forever. This is the day her only brother Michael committed suicide.
Randall said in a statement that his suicide left his loved ones in more pain.
“If we could stop any family from experiencing what I lived through, that would be a good thing,” Randall said. “Not a day goes by that I don’t think about it.”
Vets are in danger
Among the older age groups at risk of suicide are those of the “Greatest Generation” who served America abroad in the wars of the twentieth century. Those who came home after fighting in Vietnam, Korea, and World War II cannot speak of PTSD.
By most accounts, they were asked to put aside any of the emotions generated by watching their brothers’ gang members die. They were just “shocked by a shell” and would disappear.
For some of those feelings that have been deeply buried for decades, said Theron Crosby, Veterans Commander for Foreign Wars District 5 in southern Utah, they are just beginning to surface.
“Sometimes, veterans would come home and throw themselves into life, throw themselves into work or study, and push all those memories into the little corner,” Crosby said. “And they find that now that they are in retirement age, they are not as busy as they were before. And all those old thoughts and feelings are coming up, which is why PTSD is so important.”
Crosby was at the launch of the Southern Utah Live On campaign and said it will be vital to these aging veteran communities. He also wants to convey the message that the same group of brothers who fought with them in the war can now be on their side as they fight for a living. This includes weekly meetings every Wednesday night from 6-8pm, at the VFW Center at 300 E. 100 South where they can talk about their difficult experiences with those who are likely to understand more than their families.
“There are veterans who don’t feel like their families understand that, because sometimes they don’t,” Crosby said. “It’s nice to be able to sit down with someone who’s deployed, get into the fight and understand what it’s like.”
In the end, Crosby, Willis, and everyone who gathered last Wednesday said the overriding message of the Live On campaign is to reach out to those who need help, and just listen.
“A lot of us have gone through ups and downs in our lives, and there are times when the ups and downs get really bad,” Crosby said. “There is no reason to be ashamed of feeling that way.”
If you or someone you know is in danger of suicidal thoughts or actions, call 911 immediately. Suicide is an emergency that requires assistance by trained medical professionals and should always be taken seriously.
Nationwide suicide hotlines, 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) and 1-800-273-TALK (8255), have counselors available 24/7. The Southwest Behavioral Health Center also provides assistance to residents of southern Utah; Call 800-574-6763 or 435-634-5600.
Other resources include Suicide.orgThe American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the American Society for Suicide Science. They all provide comprehensive information and help on the topic of suicide, from prevention to treatment to dealing with loss.
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