GALESBURG — Suicide made the national news twice last week when designer Kate Spade and TV personality Anthony Bourdain took their lives, but for Beth Smith the issue never goes away.
A behavioral health navigator with OSF Healthcare who works in Galesburg, Smith frequently leads suicide education programs. The professional endeavor is particularly satisfying for Smith because her own life has been deeply affected by suicide — Smith’s husband killed himself seven years ago.
“My husband was a very successful business person, an attorney and a CPA,” she said. “Scott wasn’t diagnosed with depression until two years prior to his death. Up until then, we thought everything was fine. He was diagnosed and actively involved in treatment when unexpectedly, out of the blue, he hung himself.”
One of the things she teaches people is that you can’t always tell how someone is feeling.
“Someone might come across as having the world on a string, but you just don’t know,” she said. “One in five people will be diagnosed with a mental illness, so when you are standing in a big group, when you look around, you don’t know who those people are. We just have to be kind and supportive in general.”
There may be warning signs, like giving possessions away, withdrawing from family and friends, and losing interest in favorite activities. Misuse of drugs and alcohol and impulsive behaviors can also be a sign. Some people may give verbal cues, saying things like "I can’t do this anymore," "I can’t take this" and "No one can do anything to help me."
“Often, suicide attempts happen after some kind of loss within that person’s life: a death, a financial loss or the loss of a relationship,” Smith said.
There are a number of resources available to people who are contemplating suicide, or bystanders who want to help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK, is open 24-7.
“There is never a wrong time to call this line if you have those concerns and don’t know where to turn,” said Smith. “They can connect the person to local resources.”
OSF HealthCare also has a program offering help for mental-health issues. On most work days, that’s what Smith does.
“Our job is to link patients to the services they need,” said Smith. “We are at the forefront of helping people sort out the behavioral healthcare system.” The phone number for OSF Behavioral Health Navigation Link is 308-8150.
Another tool available for people struggling with depression, stress, and anxiety is SilverCloud, osfhealthcare.org/silvercloud. The program allows people to undergo counseling online at their own pace.
Smith’s work with suicide prevention doesn’t stop when her workday ends. She is also a founding member and chairperson of the Henry County Mental Health Alliance.
“We became a registered non-profit organization two years ago,” said Smith.
After her husband’s death, Smith’s four children (who ranged in age from 12 to 17) organized a suicide prevention walk in their hometown of Cambridge.
“It really began as a family trying to do what we could to survive, rather than just be stuck,” said Smith. “We thought that at least we could help other families.”
Last year Smith’s daughter expanded the walk to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign where she is a student.
“On a cold, rainy Sunday 300 people got out of bed to support it,” said Smith.
Community support is huge when it comes to suicide prevention.
“Sometimes you feel so alone when you suffer from depression or mental health issues," she said. "When you have others around you who get it, it’s so important. Breaking the stigma is a big part of what we do.”
Smith’s ultimate goal is to create suicide-safe communities. Training teachers, emergency responders and individuals what to do when someone is in crisis will help staunch the growing trend.
“Today suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S.,” Smith said. “For every suicide there are also 25 attempted suicides. We’re seeing suicides every day in our own communities. It’s really important that people somehow get involved in trying to make a difference and help decrease these numbers.”
Leslie Renken can be reached at 686-3250 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter.com/LeslieRenken, and subscribe to her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.