Suicide is the most preventable form of death and officials in Carter County have expressed interest in arming residents with suicide prevention tools, according to a Saturday workshop that offered training on the topic.
Carter County Sheriff Jeff May, Judge-Executive Mike Malone and State Rep. Jill York, R-Grayson, facilitated the workshop that attracted about 25 to Bayless Memorial Presbyterian Church.
The workshop was led by local experts on mental health from nearby universities, facilities such as Pathways, Inc., and the Kentucky Suicide Prevention Group.
Paula Rymer of the statewide prevention group hosted a discussion during the final hour of the event about how to empower individuals to approach a loved one they believe might be suicidal.
Rymer, a Flatwoods resident, shared a personal story involving her daughter’s suicide in her home in 2004. Her daughter, Alycen Jobe, was 19 when she committed suicide while home from Eastern Kentucky University during winter break.
Rymer said she attempted to get help for her daughter several times before her death, including admitting her to a hospital for treatment.
“We did everything that we thought we could,” she said. “But I did not say, ‘Alycen, are you truly, truly wanting to kill yourself?’ In 2001 was when the depression hit and I was thinking, ‘How can a kid be depressed when, I mean, she was in every soccer game, traveling team — you name it, she did it. Same thing with school — Latin Club, track, basketball. You think, ‘This kid is good. This kid is doing fine.’”
She added, “Mental health issues do not discriminate. Suicide does not discriminate.”
Because of her experiences, Rymer stressed the importance of cutting away stigma from suicide, especially when it comes to getting professional treatment and grieving with those deeply affected by the deaths of loved ones.
She suggested using the “Question, Persuade, Refer” method when approaching someone who might be contemplating taking their own life.
“It’s all about asking the question,” Rymer said. “And then knowing how to talk someone into going to get help and knowing your resources. You have to know the resources in your area. We do not have enough resources, and that is a big problem.”
Besides local hospitals, Pathways is among the few local resources available to Northeast Kentucky residents. If beds are unavailable, Rymer suggested visiting the nearest emergency room to wait for one to become available.
“There aren’t enough beds. I call daily trying to get a patient a bed,” Rymer told the group.
As part of the training, Rymer had participants practice asking each other direct questions about suicide. York admitted she had difficulty being so forward in such a sensitive situation.
“I found myself paraphrasing, even though I knew I was just talking to my godson (in the practice exercise),” York said. “I was still paraphrasing. I looked at him and went, ‘Have you been thinking about hurting yourself?’ Which is not, ‘Have you been thinking about killing yourself?’ It inches toward it, but it didn’t get there. It’s my politeness.”
Malone also said, “What I learned in my former career is use the word, not a euphemism because that takes the reality away from it. I don’t ask if someone had gone to sleep, I ask if they have died. It sound more harsh and blunt that way but it takes the reality away from something everyone needs to confront.”
Rymer said some symptoms of suicide contemplation may be signs of depression, withdrawal or hopelessness, but warned the group to also pay attention to signs of someone who could be testing the waters, or practicing suicidal behavior.
She warned parents to pay close attention to their children’s social media posts and Internet searches for anything relating to methods used to commit suicide.
Malone, May and York said they hope to have a summer workshop that would invite a larger group of local officials and community members to participate in training.
Carter County had eight suicides in 2015, according to the sheriff’s office. Kentucky Suicide Prevention Group Chairwoman Melinda Moore said research shows for every suicide 130 persons are affected, and 25 are deeply affected.
For 24/7 assistance and information about local resources or clinicians equipped to deal with suicidal patients, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at (800) 273-TALK (8255).
To contact the Kentucky Suicide Prevention Group, call (859) 429-1930 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information about Pathways, visit pathways-ky.org or call its 24-hour hotline at (606) 324-1141 or (800) 562-8909.