Medical College of Georgia project looks to change the narrative about suicide

Every day across the world, a death from suicide happens every 40 seconds, totaling nearly 800,000 people annually. In the United States, a person dies every 11 minutes from suicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

One suicide affects 158 people, and between 2016 and 2020, there were 134 suicide deaths in Richmond County. Of these 134 deaths, 102 were men and 32 were women. In addition, 87 victims were white, 46 were African American and one was Asian.

From 2015 to 2019 in Richmond County, there were 691 emergency room visits for suicide attempts. Of these patients, 282 were white, 369 were African American and 40 were members of any other racial group. Additionally, 293 were male and 398 were female. While females attempt suicide at higher rates and usually with less lethal means, males tend to attempt suicide with more lethal means, like a firearm.

September is National Suicide Prevention Month and the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University, through the Choose Life Project, is doing its part to raise awareness with the goal of saving lives.

There are many activities and plans during the month. Among them are sponsorship of the final fireworks show of the season at 6:35 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 12 at the Augusta GreenJackets’ homestand at SRP Park in North Augusta.

Resource bags will be shared at the game with informational and educational materials, to include the Georgia Crisis and Access Line phone number, and a screening of a suicide prevention PSA will be shown. “Chalk about Suicide Prevention” will also be encouraged in the third-baseline corner of the park, with chalk provided. Glow-in-the-dark bracelets to “Shine a Light on Suicide Prevention and Shine a Light in the Darkness” will also be included, and all are encouraged to wear these, particularly when it gets dark and during the fireworks display.

poster for the 'My Ascension' movie screening

The Choose Life Project will also host a screening of the documentary My Ascension at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 21 at the Maxwell Theatre. The event is free and open to the public. The movie is a true story of a suicide attempt that left 16-year-old varsity cheerleader Emma Benoit paralyzed, yet propelled her on a mission to use her painful experience to help others find hope, and shine more light on the fact that 20 young people die every day by suicide in the United States.

My Ascension chronicles Benoit’s inspiring journey and quest to walk again as she works to bring Hope Squad, a school-based suicide prevention program, to Louisiana. The film also highlights the stories of two young people who tragically did not survive their attempts, and viewers learn firsthand from their families, friends, school officials and suicide prevention experts about the devastating effects of suicide and what efforts can be done to prevent it.

“We are excited about the impact we will be able to make in raising awareness — both decreasing the stigma of reaching out for help and promoting resources that can equip and support people through difficult times,” said Julia Turnbow, research assistant and suicide prevention coordinator for the project. “We are also hoping to reach more men at the baseball game, since men’s rates of death by suicide are four times higher than females.”

“We want to decrease the stigma of reaching out for help and empower everyone to know that reaching out when they are not okay is a strength, not a weakness,” said Dr. Martha S. Tingen, the project director for Choose Life. “We want to decrease suicide and suicide attempts because every person has value and one loss is too many.”

Other events and campaigns the Choose Life Project will hold in September include:

  • A “Chalk about Suicide Prevention” initiative where people will be given sidewalk chalk and be encouraged to chalk positive messages to raise awareness and share hope
  • A “Shine a Light on Suicide Prevention” initiative where glow bracelets will be distributed that list the Georgia Crisis and Access Line phone number

The project is encouraging all who participate in these initiatives to take pictures documenting their participation and post them to Facebook and Instagram, tagging the Richmond County Suicide Prevention Coalition so they can repost.

“Ongoing efforts will continue, and include offering Question, Persuade, Refer (QPR) suicide prevention training to local organizations and community members in Richmond and Columbia counties,” Turnbow said.

“We attend community events to distribute resources such as the community resource guide. In addition, the project also uses cartvertising, which are informational ads on grocery carts that contain important prevention messages, resource numbers and QR codes. These are currently on specific grocery store carts in Richmond and Columbia counties. The grant also offers postvention resources for survivors of suicide [SOS], such as the SOS guide created by the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities. We are also in the process of building a collection of books on suicide loss and grief recovery that will be available in public library systems.”

If you or someone you know has questions, concerns or thoughts about suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. The lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones and best practices for professionals. For the deaf and hard of hearing, dial 711 then 800-273-8255.

In addition, the Georgia Crisis and Access Line is available at 1-800-715-4225, or on the MyGCAL app.

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