Lia Wolfe, a 19 year old graduate student at Florida State University, hates what depression has caused in her life but because of her pain she now has hope and joy in the littlest things in life. Lia was compelled to organize the Suicide Prevention Project Event that was held on Saturday, August 6th, 2016 in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. The event began with a workshop at the Fort Walton Beach Library, where Lia shared her powerful story. The event ended with a silent memorial walk around Fort Walton Beach Landing.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is currently the 11th leading cause of death in the United States. In fact, in the United States, a person dies by suicide approximately every 18 minutes and a suicide attempt is made once every minute. Suicide seems to attack our youth the hardest. The Foundation states that suicide is the 5th leading cause of death among 5 to 14 year olds and the 3rd leading cause of death among 15 to 24 year olds. Suicide also targets our military with 22 veterans dying by suicide every day.
Lia has a powerful story to share and wants to “shatter the silence and end the stigma against mental illness and suicide.” She believes that “one way we can make a difference is to stop saying people committed suicide. People commit crimes and murder, but no one has committed suicide since the early 1970’s when suicide was decriminalized.” Suicide is a public health concern, not a law enforcement issue. 90% of people who die by suicide have a diagnosable and treatable mental illness at the time of their death. With Florida being ranked last in the country in access to care, we need to do more than talk about mental illness and suicide. We need to proactively address. Lia believes we can be a part of the change by seeking help. Some of the risk factors for suicide are psychiatric disorders, drug and alcohol abuse, previous suicide attempts, social isolation and suicidal thoughts.
Suicide greatly impacts family and friends as well. Lia’s father, Jerry, says the “hardest time of my life was responding to the telephone call from the emergency department, where Lia was getting her stomach pumped.” Lia’s friend, Sara, who supported Lia through it all, says “Lia inspires me and I am proud of who she has become and I am thankful to call her my friend.” Imagine the pain of a mother, who almost lost her daughter to suicide. Lia’s mother, Anita, says “It is a miracle she is alive.”
Warning signs of suicide include, talking about wanting to die or kill themselves, talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live, increasing the use of alcohol or drugs, sleeping too little or too much, and isolating oneself. If you see the warning signs of suicide, begin by talking about it and asking questions, such as do you ever feel so badly that you think about suicide? Do you have a plan to commit suicide or take your life?
The start of the Memorial Walk
Although Lia knows first-hand the darkness of suicide, it is not her identity. She now encourages others to seek help. “There is nothing weak about seeking help. If you break your arm, you don’t hesitate to go to the doctor to get a cast, and have everyone sign it. So why do we hesitate to seek help if our mind needs healing.” If you are experiencing symptoms of suicide, do not keep a plan for suicide a secret; don’t feel shameful or afraid to seek help. Help is available. With proper treatment, you can get your life back. Keep in mind, Lia’s powerful words, “The only way we are going to beat a problem so many people are facing alone is by standing strong together, because when I is replaced with we even illness becomes wellness.”
If in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. Learn more by visiting www.save.org or www.afsp.org. For local information, contact Mental Health Association of Okaloosa/Walton Counties at 850-244-1040 or NAMI Pensacola at (850) 208-1609