Suicide awareness focus of Parkland-hosted event

Matthew Moss

Staff Writer

Spreading awareness about suicide and its prevention was the focus behind an event hosted by Parkland’s

Photo by Matthew Moss | The Prospectus Parkland’s Counseling and Advising Center hosted a suicide awareness event in coordination with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2015

Photo by Matthew Moss | The Prospectus
Parkland’s Counseling and Advising Center hosted a suicide awareness event in coordination with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention on Saturday, Nov. 21, 2015

Counseling and Advising Center on Nov. 21.

The event was put on in coordination with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, a national organization that works to combat suicide in the United States and provide services for those in need of a helping hand, be they considering suicide, survivors of attempted suicide, or grieving from the loss of loved ones to suicide.

Known as the International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day, it is an annual event that works to provide an outlet for people who have lost a loved one to suicide to share their thoughts and get support from those who have also suffered from a friend’s or family member’s suicide.

As the name implies, Parkland’s event was not the only International Survivors of Suicide Loss gathering; besides the U.S., 17 other countries hosted events in observance of the day. According to the International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day website, there were at least 305 events held across the U.S. and its territories.

Dennis Cockrum, a personal counselor at Parkland, helped to put on the event with several other counseling and advising staff.

“It’s a prevention effort,” Cockrum said. “The more we educate people about the risks…it can help people that are grieving intensely, it can prevent them from potential harm down the road.”

He described Parkland’s interest in hosting the event as pursuing a “ripple effect,” where those helped by the program share what helped them with others in the community who are struggling with suicide or suicide loss. He also said he hopes the event will help to stave off the stigma surrounding suicide.

“The more you talk about, it less scary it is,” Cockrum said.

For almost 12 years Cockrum worked as crisis clinician at local healthcare provider Community Elements while it was known as the Mental Health Center of Champaign County. He now advises students along their academic paths and provides counseling to students with psychological trouble.

Cockrum has a personal history with suicide; he lost a cousin when he was young, a half-brother nine years ago, and seven close friends throughout his life to suicide. However, he is not the only personal counselor at Parkland who has suffered from the suicide of a loved one. Out of the eight personal counselors, three have experienced the grief suicide can inflict.

The event began with an introduction of the two attending panelists, Linda Culton, a social worker with Community Elements, and Kathleen Ashley, literacy interventionist at Leal Elementary School. Both women also have a personal history with suicide.

Culton lost her son to suicide and both of Ashley’s twin brothers took their own lives. Both women have come to terms with their grief and are sharing their experiences to give others some guidance and support in the international war against suicide.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is taking an aggressive stance against suicide. Their goal is to reduce the rate of suicide in the U.S. by 20 percent by the year 2025, according to information proliferated at the event that can also be found at their website.

According to data presented by the AFSP and sourced from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide was responsible for 41,149 reported American deaths in 2013. Men accounted for 77.9 percent of this figure.

The AFSP also claims that 90 percent of those who have attempted suicide do not actually die by suicide.

The recurring theme with all three organizations is that those who are struggling with suicide are not alone and help is available for everyone.

To anyone in need of assistance regarding his or her mental health, combating self-harmful thoughts or tendencies, or the loss of a loved one to suicide, there are many resources available.

The Champaign-based Community Elements operates a 24-hour, all-year crisis hotline at 217-359-4141. On the national level, the Department of Health and Human Services’ National Suicide Prevention Hotline is also available 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255.

Community Elements, the AFSP, and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline can provide or help find therapy or support groups for those in need.