The Mental Health Association and the Clermont County Suicide Prevention Coalition held the sixth annual candlelight vigil for suicide victims and their surviving loved ones at the Union Township Veteran’s Park Sept. 11.
As part of national suicide prevention week, which was proclaimed by the county Board of Commissioners last week as being Sept. 10-16, the annual vigil was a way to acknowledge and honor all of those who have lost their lives to suicide in 2006-07.
“We are gathered here tonight to recognize those who have been touched by suicide in some way,” said Clermont Suicide Crisis Hotline Coordinator Rachel Bayer. “It is a way to inform the community about suicide awareness and its importance by providing visible support and tangible resources to the community.”
More than 30,000 deaths by suicide occur every year in the United States; worldwide, there are one million suicides a year. Suicide is the eleventh leading cause of all deaths and the third leading cause of death among young people between the ages of 15 and 24.
According to LeeAnn Watson, associate director of the Clermont County Mental Health and Recovery Board, suicide is of major concern in the county and the board is committed to doing whatever it takes to raise awareness and prevent further suicides.
"In the past year, there have been several suicides that have affected the county and really touched our community," she said. "We honor those tonight while we spread awareness and try to erase the stigma surrounding suicide to prevent any more from happening."
One of the major initiatives in the prevention effort is a 24-hour suicide crisis hotline.
The hotline, which is operated by Child Focus and is completely funded by Mental Health and Recovery Board levy funds, has had a major impact on the community since it was started four years ago.
"It is important that the county has a crisis hotline because it is a much-needed service that is available to everyone," Bayer said. "On the average, we take about 80-90 calls a month. Our efforts are focused on continuing to raise awareness and services and to encourage people to utilize it."
The hotline is going into its fourth year of operation; in that time, it has received over 3,000 calls, 300 of which pertained to suicide. It is staffed around the clock by trained professionals; there is no waiting list and no answering machine.
During the vigil, 22 first names of those who committed suicide last year were spoken aloud as a candle was lit in their honor by Rachel Bayer and Deb Clancy.
"Part of this event is remembering, part of it is prevention," said Mental Health and Recovery Board Executive Director Karen Scherra. "Nobody realizes at first how many people are affected by suicide. Some of the high profile suicides that we have had in the past year has had a tremendous impact on our community and it is hard for people to fathom. They want and need some reassurance that this will not happen to someone else."
Remembering, honoring, and celebrating their lives is what the vigil is all about, said Mental Health Association vigil organizer Virginia Dennis.
"We are here tonight not to grieve their deaths, but to celebrate their lives," she said. "Let us focus on the smiles, the laughter, the love, and the joy that they brought into our lives. One million lives are lost every year to suicide - sons, mothers, fathers, grandparents, siblings, friends, and colleagues - each a special individual whose life is remembered this day and every day through the lives that they touched."
The 24-hour suicide crisis hotline is 528-SAVE (7283).