Break the silence

By: Riley Holcraft 

Suicide is no new phenomenon and the public has become virtually desensitized to its effects with a surge of TV shows, celebrity attempts and news reports.

Stories like this come and go but rarely do people stop to think about those affected. Volunteer State Community College partnered with The Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network by hosting its first annual Break the Silence event dedicated to lives touched by suicide.

On Sept. 20, at the Humanities Plaza, a small group gathered to discuss suicide within the community. The ceremony opened with a song performed by Vol State Students, Kendahl Oakley, and Cole Harper.

Quilts with pictures of suicide victims in Tennessee and pinwheels with names of suicide victims connected to Vol State students were on display. Many of the pinwheels had repeating names.

Oliver Graves, Vol State Student and Spectrum club leader explained the meaning behind the repetition, “When someone commits suicide, not just one person is affected,” said Graves.

Graves had personal experience with a suicide attempt six months after coming out as gay.

“forty percent of LGBT youth have either attempted or contemplated suicide. It is not a joke,” said Graves.

Oftentimes, suicide is overlooked as “selfish” or “overrated.”

However, TSPN Volunteer, Teresa Culbreath explained, “No one is immune.”

The effects of suicide spread to a wide community of individuals, and suicide attempters often have no refuge.

Culbreath lost a brother and husband to suicide, so her personal experience has inspired her to bring awareness to others.

“Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network has three main goals when it comes to dealing with suicide: intervention, prevention, and postvention,” said Culbreath.

The best way to implement these goals is by making others aware of available assistance and educating the public of warning signs.

“I have had personal, lasting effects from suicide after my sister attempted. If I could let the student body know one think about suicide, it would be: learn the signs,” said Vol State student, Crystal Hutchins.

Warning signs include: talking about death, withdrawal from social activities, behavior changes, giving away prized possessions, and drug abuse.

The most important thing to do when encountering these warning signs is to approach the affected person with compassion and notify someone of greater authority. It is important to never belittle the feelings of someone who feels hopeless.

Samantha Nadler, a devoted wife, and mother, also shared her personal experience with suicide. She had made several attempts throughout her lifetime and is now an advocate dedicated to helping those that struggle with suicide.

Nadler explained that along with knowing warning signs the most important aspect of suicide prevention is a community. “Community matters. Connections with other people matter,” she said.

Most suicide attempts are related to ending a lifelong pain, emotional or physical. A community typically serves as a buffer between the pain and the thoughts of death. Nadler explained how her community of suicide preventionists “ended up saving my life.”

The event closed with a reflection time. All attendees were offered a small container of bubbles that read “Break the Silence.” Each person thought of a person who is currently affected by or struggling with suicide and blew the bubbles in their honor.

September is Suicide Awareness Month. Students, you are urged to take notice of what is happening around you. Be aware, be compassionate.

In 2016, Tennessee lost 1,110 people to suicide and the number continues to rise. It is happening in your state. It is happening in your community. It is happening in your school.

Help is offered on the school website; students can also be connected with an experienced counselor on campus. If you are in immediate need of help, call the suicide prevention hotline: 1-800-273-8255.