A small group of concerned citizens met at City Hall on Friday, Sept. 22 as Mayor Andrew Dawson read from a proclamation he was preparing to sign.
“Suicide most often occurs when stressors exceed the current coping abilities of someone suffering from a mental health condition,” Dawson read. “Therefore, be it resolved that I, Andrew Dawson, Mayor of the City of Sedalia, do hereby designate Sept. 1, 2023, to Sept. 30, 2023, as Sedalia Suicide Prevention Month.”
A person is lost to suicide in Missouri every seven hours, and it is the 10th leading cause of death in Missouri and nationally. Missouri is ranked 13th highest in the nation with a suicide rate of around 18 per 100,000.
“The fact that it's a preventable instance and it's caused by mental health conditions, very sobering those statistics and the amount of life that's lost due to suicide,” Dawson told the Democrat. “If anyone is experiencing a mental health crisis, please reach out to someone. Use the new 988 Suicide and Crisis Hotline to reach out and talk to somebody.”
Robin Balke serves on the board of DeFeet, a nonprofit organization that keeps suicide prevention and mental health awareness top-of-mind in Sedalia and Pettis County.
“We try to promote education and awareness year-round,” Balke said. “Anytime we have an opportunity in the community to set up our table of resource information, we will be there and provide information on general mental health illnesses as well as suicide prevention. We have resources for after a suicide attempt, how family and friends can help support someone who's attempted suicide, and how you can support someone who's lost a loved one to suicide.”
Balke knows of the fear of being stigmatized when reaching out for help during a personal crisis, and said it doesn’t have to be so.
“Sadly, a lot of people feel that talking about suicide, asking someone, ‘Are you thinking about harming yourself or killing yourself?’ they feel like asking that question is going to plant the seed in that person's mind and that's not the case,” she said. “When people die by suicide, it's because they feel there is no hope in their life and that is the only way out. Whatever pain they're dealing with at the time, if someone's willing to talk to them, there's hope for them, there's resources available for them. Sometimes they're just dealing with really heavy emotions, shame, guilt, grief, and sometimes it's a chemical imbalance in their brain and it's not something they have control over.”
Balke said there is help available, though there may not always be an immediate cure for self-destructive thoughts.
“You have to have proper medication or certain therapies to help get through that,” Balke said. “People need to understand that it's not a matter of someone just being sad for a few days, and they need to know the signs of suicide.”
A list of the warning signs of suicidal behavior may be found on DeFeet’s website.
“This organization was started by an individual who lost her brother suicide,” Balke added. “She didn't know the signs, so she and a friend of her brother started the organization, and we started offering mental health first aid training so that people could learn the science of suicide.”
Larry Parham is the Community Interaction Deputy with the Pettis County Sheriff’s Office and has dealt with many suicidal individuals while working the streets in law enforcement. He has also seen suicidal tendencies in fellow first responders.
“It's one big cause of death for first responders, right up there is suicide,” Parham said. “I've lost personal friends to suicide. I mean, sometimes, it's just you're dealing with your own problems and then you're carrying the weight of everybody else’s.”
Trying to maintain a strong facade can keep some first responders from reaching out for help.
“Some people just don't have an outlet, someone to talk to,” Parham said. “There's always this stigma of, ‘I can't say that I need help because, you know, I'll appear weak.’”
Many times, it just takes one person reaching out to break the cycle of suicidal thinking and provide a brighter alternative.
“Sedalia PD and the Pettis County Sheriff's Office are both really big on crisis intervention training,” Parham said. “We try to make sure everybody's going to that training.”
Brin Spaunhorst is a licensed professional counselor and mental health therapist who works through a checklist to help determine if her patients are having thoughts of suicide.
“It's called the PHQ 9,” Spaunhorst said. “It's a short little assessment and it just directly asks if they're thinking about ending their life. It asks them about hopelessness, it asks them how they feel about themselves. There's a scale, and of course, if there's all zeros, then they're reporting that they're not having any suicidal ideation. If there's higher elevated numbers, then of course that's something that I'm going to talk to them about.”
For those without formal crisis intervention training, take some easy advice from experts.
“You can directly ask people, ‘You thinking about killing yourself? Are you thinking about suicide? Talk to me about those thoughts, tell me more.’ And then they'll usually share that with you,” Spanhorst said. “If we're all educated and we're all made more aware of this topic, and we can ask questions, then that elicits the response and that starts the discussion and the conversation.”
For more information about DeFeet, visit defeet.org. The national Suicide and Crisis Lifeline is available 24 hours a day in English and Spanish by calling or texting 988.
Chris Howell can be reached at 660-530-0146.