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A Community Conversation About Youthful Suicide


For the second year, Tallahassee area mental health providers and crisis organizations are again banding together to host a community conversation on youth suicide next week.

The Capital City, with its large student population, is more susceptible to this tragedy than many other cities its size. One of the sponsoring agencies is 211 of the Big Bend. It began life decades ago as a local suicide prevention hotline. Today it connects callers with dozens of organizations providing almost every conceivable form of help. Still 211 of the Big Bend’s Hotline Director Carrie Tyree said the line continues to perform the function for which it was created.

“In December (2018) alone we had 101 calls that related to suicide,” she revealed. “That consisted of what we call second party suicide as well. That’s when a family member or a coworker, a friend, calls on behalf of someone they know is suicidal.”

Suicide remains the second leading cause of death for young people behind only accidental injury. With two major universities and a large community college, Tallahassee has tens of thousands of people in that more suicide-prone demographic. Florida A&M’s Director of Counseling Services Anika Fields said students are subject to stress, which can lead to depression and self-destructive impulses.

“Just last semester we admitted about 7 students to the hospital because of severe depression,” Fields recalled. “And they’ll come in themselves and say, ‘I’m suicidal!’ A lot of times their friends will bring them in, which is really good because the stigma has decreased some in terms of counseling.”

Luckily, the agencies and organizations in this area that deal with suicide work in close coordination. Kelli Mercer is Behavioral Health Services Outreach Coordinator at Capital Regional Medical Center.

“And we appreciate community partners such as 211 and Florida A&M so that when we discharge a patient from either our inpatient or outpatient program we have community resources to refer those folks to so that they can continue to get help and treatment to recover and live a productive life and have community wrap-around supports to do that. And so we appreciate working with our community partners to help that person be successful.”

Last year, organizations including Tyree’s, Fields’ and Mercer’s banded together to host a day-long suicide prevention seminar that attracted more than400 people. It’s happening again this year and once again, the featured presenter is Clark Flatt, who has experienced youth suicide in the most painful way possible.

“It was July 16th, 1997 that I lost my youngest son Jason who was 16 years old at the time, to what we call the ‘silent epidemic’ of youth suicide. It was a tragic event that, as I’ve heard so many parents say since that time, ‘I didn’t realize it was such a threat to my children, I didn’t know the impact it was making, let alone the warning signs!’ So when we lost Jason, it put the whole family and friends and neighborhood into a spin.”

Flatt founded the Jason Foundation in honor of his son as a means to prevent more suicides.

“What we try to do is make people feel comfortable about saying, ‘Yes, we have a national health crisis of youth suicides, but I can do something about it by helping identify people who may be struggling and then help to get them to professional help. Get that first step. Not to do it yourself; that’s the key. But to be an identifier, a stabilizer and then a referrer.”

Along with Flatt’s keynote presentation will be a showcase of the community’s suicide prevention resources, such as Carrie Tyree’s 211 Big Bend.

“We’ll be out there talking about the different resources in our database, about 2,200 referrals in that database. And it will also be a time to see if students want to get involved and answer the call for help,” she said.

That in itself will be a valuable source of information, agreed FAMU’s Anika Fields.

“It’s going to be good for the community because so often the community isn’t aware of what we have or the agencies that they may be able to go to.”

Capital Regional Medical Center’s Kelli Mercer says the event is coming up next week. “You can check out our website at: www.capitalregionalmedicalcenter.com. You can also RSVP to: 850-325-3627."

There’s no charge for admission.

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Tom Flanigan has been with WFSU News since 2006, focusing on covering local personalities, issues, and organizations. He began his broadcast career more than 30 years before that and covered news for several radio stations in Florida, Texas, and his home state of Maryland.

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