Suicide is one of those subjects that people don’t want to talk about but as a society we need to talk about more in order to help, experts say.
In a series of five radio spots called “Mental Notes,” which talk frankly about suicide, suicide prevention and tips, Portage Path Behavioral Health in Akron is trying to educate our community and change the dialogue.
The spots will begin airing on the evening of Labor Day, Sept. 2, on 91.3 The Summit’s “Rock and Recovery” show. The daily show is designed to offer support to the recovery community through the therapeutic power of music and messages of hope.
In the first spot, which was previewed at an open house at Portage Path this week for community members and leaders, Barb Medlock, who coordinates the agency’s suicide support hotline, shares some really important information.
All five spots are available online with this column. They also will air in order daily starting at 11:30 p.m. Sept. 2 on 91.3-FM in the Akron area and 90.7-FM in Youngstown. They will repeat periodically during the regular “Rock and Recovery” show, which airs from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. daily with unusual music and messaging and also streamed 24 hours a day at www.rockandrecovery.com
Here are some of the highlights of the first radio spot:
“One of the most important things we can do is to change the way we talk or don’t talk about it [suicide],” Medlock says.
“If it were any other problem, we would all agree we couldn’t solve it without talking about it.
"But with suicide, there’s so much stigma, fear, shame and pain attached to it that it’s just too hard to talk about it.
“It’s difficult to help people at risk for suicide and have them ask for help if we treat suicide as a taboo subject. Our goal should be to encourage open constructive conversation about suicide and use objective instead of stigmatizing language.”
Medlock says people affected by suicide are “vulnerable and can really fear how others react, so we need to talk about suicide that’s helpful and without judgment.”
We can start, she says, by changing our language to say “died by suicide” instead of “committed suicide.”
“The word 'committed' implies a sin or crime when it is almost always the product of mental illness, intolerable pain or trauma,” she says.
If someone dies by suicide, that is the preferred language to “completed suicide” or “succeeded at suicide.” If the person “survived a suicide attempt,” that is preferable to “made a failed attempt,” she says.
“Using this objective language takes the judgment out and allows us to talk about suicide in the same way we would a death from cancer or lung disease,” she says.
“Remember, people who are thinking about suicide are listening to how we talk about it and deciding whether it would be safe to talk to us.”
Once a conversation starts, she says, “it opens the door to help, hope and healing.”
The number to call “if you’re losing hope and thinking about suicide or worried about someone” is 800-273-TALK (8255) or 330-434-9144. Both numbers in our region will ring to the Portage Path Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention hotline, which is staffed 24 hours a day by a trained volunteer or staff member, with access to licensed social workers and therapists at Portage Path’s Psychiatric Emergency Services Center. That’s a walk-in, emergency 24-hour mental health center at 10 Penfield Ave. in Akron behind St. Thomas Hospital.
People can also text “4HOPE” to 741741 for assistance.
The largest population of people who die by suicide are middle-age Caucasian men, people older than 85 and youths. In Summit, Portage and Stark counties, we have lost more than 550 residents in the last three years, Medlock says.
Deaths by suicide in the U.S. far outweigh deaths by homicide or war, Dr. Doug Smith, chief clinical officer and medical director for Summit County’s Alcohol, Drug, Addiction and Mental Health Services board, said at the Portage Path event this week.
There are 13 deaths by suicide per 100,000 people, or nearly 43,000 deaths by suicide a year in the United States, he said.
Smith said it is unknown why middle-age Caucasian men are the fastest-growing population to die by suicide, but highlighted www.mantherapy.org — a website that uses humor to talk about mental health and “is a great way for men in particular to see mental health in a funny way to go and get help.”
The radio spots for “Mental Notes” and suicide prevention and tips, have a familiar voice leading in and out: the late Jim Chenot, who spent 30 years behind the microphone at WONE (97.5-FM), The Summit (91.3-FM) and other stations.
Chenot died at age 62 by suicide in November 2016. He was instrumental in developing and supporting “Rock and Recovery,” said Garrett Hart, creative content director for The Summit, who helped conceive of the program.
Chenot’s death was so shocking to his radio colleagues, Hart said. Using his voice for the “Mental Notes” intros “is our tribute to Jim and to keep his memory and his interests alive,” Hart said.
The “Rock and Recovery” program is purposely on the radio airwaves late at night, Hart said.
“We feel that late at night, there are issues where people may be alone or may be in a depressed mood or have reasons to be thinking negative thoughts,” Hart said. “The idea behind the radio channel is to let people know they’re not alone and a message to offer them hope, regardless of the situation.”
Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or email@example.com. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ and see all her stories at www.ohio.com/topics/linfisher