Babs Hall, Gateway/ADRC Program Manager for the SOWEGA Council on Aging, devotes a considerable amount of her free time to helping with the SOWEGA Suicide Prevention Coalition. (Staff photo: Brad McEwen)
ALBANY — While all deaths bring about sadness over the loss, few have the impact on friends, co-workers and loved ones that those deaths that are self-inflicted have.
To those who are suffering, concerned residents in the Albany area have created the Southwest Georgia Suicide Prevention Coalition and, for the past year, have worked diligently to increase public awareness about the issues that can lead to a person to take his or her own life.
Babs Hall, Gateway/ADRC program manager with the SOWEGA Council on Aging, recently shared some information about suicide and the work of the coalition with members of the Kiwanis Club of Dougherty County.
Hall began her presentation by sharing an experience she had while working in investigations for the Department of Family and Children’s Service not long after graduating from college. it has had a lasting impact on her.
“I was fresh out of college and thought I could save the world, so I took a job with the Department of Family and Children’s Services and I learned quickly that that task was more than I had anticipated,” Hall shared. “They didn’t teach me any of the things I needed to know in college to do this job.”
Hall said she didn’t learn in college how to handle a suicide situation. While working one of her first investigative cases, Hall was set to meet with a single father who was raising his 14 year old daughter. The daughter had been removed from the home over safety concerns until the investigation could be completed.
Hall said that when she arrived at the home for the scheduled interview, there was no answer at the door, which surprised her since she had confirmed the meeting with the father earlier that day. After knocking several times, Hall left, only to receive a phone call that night.
“That evening, I got a call from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation that the gentleman had completed suicide that night,” Hall said. “So, my job was to go and tell this 14-year-old girl that her daddy had just taken his own life.”
Having been shaken deeply by that experience, Hall began learning more about suicide and what motivates people to commit it.
She also learned some sobering statistics, such as the fact that the vast majority of those who take their own lives are middle aged and elderly.
Perhaps the statistics that had the most impact on Hall, however, was learning that worldwide roughly 1 million people take their own lives annually, and that suicide was the 10h leading cause of death in the United States.
“I’m not a numbers person,” Hall said, ” but 1 million people dying every year by suicide is one person every 40 seconds. Every 40 seconds, someone takes their own life. And, consequently, every 41 seconds, someone is left behind to deal with that loss.”
Hall also learned through her research and through her affiliation with the Albany Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) that a great many of those who commit suicide suffer from untreated mental illness.
“Ninety percent of the individuals who take their own life have at least one, or often more than one, treatable mental illness,” Hall said.
Upon learning more about the causes and effects of suicide Hall and others formed the SOWEGA Suicide Prevention Coalition to help raise awareness about suicide and offer support to those who are considering taking their own lives and those family members and friends impacted by the suicide of another.
“I have the pleasure of being a member of the Southwest Georgia Suicide Prevention Coalition,” said Hall. “A group of us got together in July of 2013 and decided their was a need in our community. We wanted to give back and we wanted to support our community and to help prevent this epidemic from growing.”
Hall said the organization got support from Jere Brands, the president of NAMI’s Albany chapter, and from Dougherty County Coroner Michael Fowler, who are both founding members of of the coalition.
The group has hosted events for survivors, has gotten six trained and certified support group facilitators to help run groups in Dougherty County, and has become part of the community through speaking engagements and participation in community events. That’s something that Hall, who works strictly on a volunteer basis, is proud of.
“This is what I do as a hobby, as my gift back to the community,” she said.
In hopes of combating suicide, Hall closed her presentation by urging those in the audience to begin discussing suicide with their friends, co-workers and families in order to help combat the stigma associated with suicide so that society is better equipped to help those who are suffering.
Hall envisions a future where suicide will be looked at much like other health issues and doctors will openly discuss it as part of a person’s family history, much like they do with heart disease and cancer.
“I want each person in this room to go home, to think a little bit about what we’ve talked about today and have a conversation with at least one person,” said Hall. “We talk about medical history. Do you know the history of suicide or mental illness in your own families? Until I became an adult and started dealing with these tough subject matters like suicide I had no idea my brother and I had suicide on both sides of our family. No one every talked about it.
“It’s just as much a part of your medical history as cholesterol, your weight and your blood pressure is. It’s important that you know what your own medical history is.”
Hall said it was also important for those struggling with thoughts of suicide or mental illness issues to be aware that help is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week through the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and Development’s Crisis and Access Line at (800) 715-4225 or mygcal.com.
Anyone wanting to learn more about suicide and the activities of the SOWEGA Suicide Prevention Coalition can visit the organization’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/swgasuicideprevention or by calling (229) 234-7954.