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Thursday, June 1, 2023

Searching for Answers from People of Action

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The search for answers to mental health issues can lead you down many roads.  When I recently reached out for help for assistance with the mental health problem in our community, one name became a frequent source of recommendation. Susie Reynolds Reece of Suicide Prevention Allies.  A quick phone call to Reece a little over a month ago was met with a rapid response and a willingness to help in any way possible.  Reece brought her wealth of knowledge of the topic to Hackett this week.

Speak with Reece for five minutes and it’s obvious she’s passionate about the topic.  Like myself, she too lost a loved one to suicide.  The loss of her father became the source of her desire to tackle a subject many are reluctant to speak about.  During Reece’ community event at Hackett First Baptist Church,  she spoke of the stigma that’s associated with suicide and mental health in general.  Those in attendance gained a wealth of knowledge not only on the warning signs but postvention as well.  

One of the myths associated with suicide is that talking about it will encourage others to act out in the same way.  It’s simply not true.  An open dialogue is healthy and necessary to address feelings and thoughts that may be harboring inside those who are having mental health issues.  There is no one solution to this problem, it’s a problem that has to be addressed from some several different angles.

Reece, who is a frequent speaker across the state, sees a recurring problem across the country.  A social disconnect through social media.  Reece gave an example of how time can slip away using social media.  A quick five-minute glance at social media soon turns into a two-hour escape without even realizing it.   Reece also recommended limiting kids access to social media, especially before bedtime. 

As a community, it’s going to take several things to tackle the mental health problem in our area.  The first thing is to realize it’s not going to fix itself overnight.  Mental illness does not just happen overnight.  It progresses over time.  The problem with mental illness is often times the symptoms are oblivious to those around them.  With physical issues, we as spectators can visualize the wounds.  A cast on an arm is a visual representation of perhaps a break or sprain.  Those bandages aren’t visible with mental health.  Just as a cast or a crutch can be used for support for a physical injury, we must search for support in mental health.

One of the sources of support is each other.  It’s amazing what a kind note or word can have on a person.  Reece recalled the story of Don Ritchie, who is often referred to as the Australian Angel.  Ritchie lived near one of the most popular places in Australia for suicide.  Ritchie would observe people pacing near a rocky cliff at the entrance to Sydney Harbour called The Gap. Ritchie began offering those approaching the cliff a cup of tea.  It stimulated a conversation and more importantly saved lives.  Some estimates place the number of lives saved at several hundred.  All because of a generous gesture. 

It’s also going to take the efforts of those committed to this cause to make a difference.  People like Kim and Kevin Henry who have been to every single mental health presentation in this town and continue to want to learn more. People like Todd and Renea Johnson who spend their time tracking down grant funding for future projects that are going to give the kids a safe after-school alternative. It’s also going to take the continuing efforts of people like Susie Reece who offer their time and resources to help communities like ours who reach out for help. It’s easy to sit behind a keyboard and say “they should do this or this is what I would do”.  These are people of action and actions speak louder than words.  

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