September 2015 is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month to help promote resources and awareness, so Shannon Hall, Board Chair for the Middle TN Chapter of American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) graciously answered some questions for this column.
Kathryn Darden, Examiner: What is the purpose of AFSP?
Shannon Hall, AFSP: The AFSP is the leader in the fight against suicide. We fund research, create educational programs, advocate for public policy, and support survivors of suicide loss. Led by CEO Robert Gebbia and headquartered in New York, AFSP has 75 local chapters with programs and events nationwide.
KD: When was it founded and by whom?
SH: Founded in 1987 by a group of founding families, each of whom had lost someone to suicide. They joined together with a group of scientists to create what is today the AFSP.
KD: What is your role there?
SH: I am the Board Chair for the Middle TN Chapter and I also serve as the Chair of the Public Policy and Advocacy Committee. I am an active Volunteer Advocate for AFSP, and regularly correspond with both federal and state legislators concerning policy and legislative issues related to mental health and suicide prevention and awareness.
KD: How did you get involved with AFSP?
SH: I lost my younger brother, Matt, to suicide in February, 2012. He struggled with mental health problems and addiction, and had attempted several times before. When you lose someone to suicide, the range of emotions is so vast. You feel angry at them for leaving you. You feel guilty, because you think you should have known something was wrong and been able to prevent it. And of course, you feel this overwhelming and utterly incapacitating grief at the realization that, for this person you loved so dearly, felt that life or their circumstances, were so bad, that death seemed to be their only option. Losing him was a devastating blow, and in my search for answers and support, I found the Out of the Darkness Walk. This event put me in contact with a community of fellow loss survivors, and a chapter that was in formation at the time. It really was a lifeline to me. It helped me start to make sense of my loss, and to know that I wasn’t the only one with these questions, and these awful, awful feelings.
KD: What does the AFSP do in the community to prevent suicide?
SH: Our Chapter is only 3 years old now, but is growing exponentially. We have had two State Capitol Days, during which we table an information booth at Legislative Plaza, and also conduct in-person meetings with as many state legislators as we can. Our Music Row Out of the Darkness Walk had over 1,000 participants this year, and raised over $70,000. We are hoping to soon implement a Survivor Outreach peer to peer program, and we are regularly contacted to table events and speak to community groups. Each November, on the Saturday before Thanksgiving, we host an International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day event. This year’s event will be in Franklin on November 21st. You can register for it at www.survivorday.org
KD: What are some suicide warning signs of suicide?
SH: A really good, easy one for folks to remember is to know the 5 signs. There’s a great website for this, here: The five signs are: *Personality Change *Agitation *Withdrawal *Poor Self Care *Hopelessness If you are struggling, or know someone who is, they can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
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