As speakers recounted the horrors of family members and experts and community members talked about the rising tide of Forsyth County residents taking their own lives, one word was projected above them: Hope.
The inaugural Suicide Awareness Summit was held Wednesday at the Forsyth Conference Center at Lanier Tech and allowed family members of those who committed suicide, experts on prevention and community leaders to talk about the issue.
And according to many of them, talking is the best thing you can do.
* The stigma, and what schools are doing to combat the problem
* A look into Forsyth County law enforcement'sresponse
* Hospitals, health care providers play vital role in treatment
How to get help
The national suicide prevention hotline can be reached 24 hours per day at 1(800) 273-8255 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org for information and resources.
Warning signs: Talk
A person might describe:
* Being a burden to others
* Feeling trapped
* Experiencing unbearable pain
* Having no reason to live
* Killing themselves
Warning signs: Behavior
A person might:
* Increase alcohol or drug use
* Look for a way to kill themselves, such as searching online
* Act recklessly
* With from activities
* Isolate from family and friends
* Sleep too much or too little
* Visit or call people to say goodbye
* Give away prized possessions
* Act aggressively
Warning signs: Mood
A person might display one or more of:
* Loss of interest
(Source: American Foundation for Suicide Prevention)
The evening’s keynote speaker was FOX 5 anchor Katie Beasley, who lost her brother, Davis, to suicide last year. Beasley’s father, David, also addressed the crowd to tell his experience, and she read a letter from her mother to her deceased brother.
“He had been battling inner demons I simply couldn’t understand: depression, drug addiction and what we believe now is an undiagnosed mental illness,” Beasley said. “Not a day goes by that I don’t think about him and some days are easier than others.”
Beasley said she knew there was a stigma around suicide but was surprised by the amount of support when she posted the news online.
“It was all so much more common that I realized,” she said. “I heard from total strangers who were battling depression and could relate to my brother. I got hundreds of messages … of support because they lost a family member to suicide.
“Most of them had the same sentiment: they still had many questions, they were not over their loved ones’ death and they’d been forever changed by it.”
Beasley also hosted a discussion with Katie Bagosy and Cassie Hamilton, who each lost their husbands to suicide.
Bagosy said her husband, Thomas, had served in Iraq and Afghanistan with Marine Corps and had suffered a traumatic brain injury. When discussing with the panel she answered questions about the stigma of suicide and urged those considering suicide to seek help.
“There is always help. There is always hope,” she said. “You are not alone, and I know a lot of times you feel like you are and I think that’s why it’s so great to connect and to talk about it, because a lot of people don’t talk about it.”
Hamilton said she lost her husband, Justin, in June to suicide related to a hidden drug issue.
“Justin did leave me a note. He told me how much he loved me and that he couldn’t continue to hurt me and disappoint me anymore,” Hamilton said. “I’m here to tell you today it can get better. Despite what my husband thought, we are not better off without him. My children will grow up without a father, I’m left as a broken-hearted widow at the young age of 29 and our lives are forever torn apart.”
Reagan Lamb, a sixth grader at North Forsyth Middle School, told the crowd about her fight with schizoaffective disorder and wanting to self-harm and the lack of resources for children under 13 in similar situations.
“It was a really hard time for me and I was scared and felt depressed. I don’t want anyone else to feel that way,” she said. “I want everyone to talk about it; no secrets, no shame, that’s the way I was made and I will own it.”
Several community resources including Forsyth County Schools, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Northside Hospital-Forsyth and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention also spoke.
“Suicide doesn’t happen on its own,” said Roland Behm, with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “It doesn’t happen to a single individual; it happens to families, it happens to communities, it happens to church families, it happens all around the state and all around this country.”
An emotional Michael Williams, who represents the majority of Forsyth County as the District 27 state senator and is running for governor in 2018, shared the story of his father’s suicide when he was 14 years old.
Williams said he and his other family members were returning from a church camp when they found him.
“For years, I suffered from guilt wondering had I not gone to that camp and my mom been there to protect him like she had many times before,” Williams said. “I suffered from grief and pain at not having a father be there as I graduated high school, college, got married. I suffered from self-doubt and self-worth wondering was my life worth living if my own father wouldn’t be a part of it.”
Forsyth County Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills, who said there are plans for future summits, pointed out that the county is commonly ranked the healthiest and wealthiest in the state but said that doesn’t always guarantee happiness.
“Tonight we want to talk about the subject others won’t talk about,” Mills said. “We want to recognize that we have had 24 very precious people decide to end their life in Forsyth County since January. Just two weeks ago I wrote that there had been 22 people who took their life; now the number has changed to 24.”