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Fighting to prevent suicides in the Sauk Valley

September is national Sucide Prevention Month

STERLING — About 4 months ago, three people died of suicide within 6 weeks in Carroll County. The youngest was 18, the oldest, 21.

By June, there already had been more suicides in Lee County than in all of 2012.

Suicide claims more lives in America than homicide and HIV combined, and kills more people than car crashes — 38,364 compared to 33,687, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Suicide often is thought to be something that affects teenagers and elderly adults more than others. Rather than confining it to specific groups, experts prefer to see it as being triggered by transitional periods, or times of great duress.

Cheryl Robinson is director of curriculum and instruction for Rock Falls District 13. She also is a trainer with LivingWorks, a group that provides tools to help community members catch suicide warning signs early on.

Robinson's son, Patrick, died by suicide in June 2005. He was 19. It was because of his death that she became so committed to the cause of suicide prevention and awareness, helping to bring LivingWorks to the area and also bringing the first Out of the Darkness walk to the area. (This year's walk is today.)

“Right away I tried to figure it out,” Robinson said. “I read a lot and went to the support group and all that — to try to make sense of something that doesn't really make sense.”

She said it wasn't until about a year and a half later that she came across LivingWorks. At the time Robinson was working on the other side of the river for Sterling Public Schools. It was through Sterling High School that she first brought LivingWorks to the area.

Along with Jeff Hippen, director of technology for the Sterling school district, and Ken Zuithoff, former pastor of Bethel Reformed Church in Sterling, Robinson has trained groups all over the Sauk Valley in suicide awareness and prevention.

“The philosophy is that the more people who are trained in the community – it's like having a lot of lifeguards around the river,” she said.

It makes sense: The more lifeguards, the higher the chance someone will jump in to save you at the first sign of distress.

Today's walk, which begins at 11 a.m at Sinnissippi Park, is part of a nationwide organization called the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, which invites communities to organize walks to raise awareness and funding for suicide prevention. This year's walk is timely; September is Suicide Prevention Month.

As Robinson pulls out a poster board of photographs from a walk a few years ago, she talks about the people she's met, and how empowering it is to attend.

Amy Adams is the project coordinator for Community that Cares, a group that works to improve health services for Whiteside, Lee, Carroll and Ogle counties.

Before taking on her current role, Adams was an early childhood mental health clinician for 13 years with Sinnissippi Centers.

“Nobody is immune,” she said. “Suicide impacts and penetrates every race, every socioeconomic status, every age group.”

In the wake of the three Carroll County deaths earlier this year, Community that Cares is piloting a program to provide talks with youths in the community to foster an open environment, where it's OK to talk about mental health, and also to teach youths about suicide warning signs.

Additionally, the group worked to get a PSA about mental health on the radio called "OK 2 Talk." It's been broadcasting for the past 3 weeks on four different radio stations throughout the area.

"I think that we as a community need to get to a point to where we're talking about it openly," Adams said. "Like how we talk about fiscal health, or how some people are diagnosed with diabetes."

Look for warning signs

The following are warning signs that someone might be intending to attempt suicide:

* Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself

* Looking for a way to kill oneself, such as searching online or buying a gun

* Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live

* Talking about feel trapped or in unbearable pain

* Talking about being a burden to others

* Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs

* Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly

* Sleeping too little or too much

* Withdrawing or feeling isolated

* Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge

* Displaying extreme mood swing

Source: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

For help

For more information, contact:

Irene Lewis Wimbley, Whiteside County Family Care Coordinator: 815-625-0013

Amy Adams, Community that Cares Project Coordinator: 815-625-0013, ext. 120

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