Last fall, I joined the Suicide Prevention Alliance of Northern Virginia (SPAN) LGBT committee as a representative for the City of Manassas Park, Department of Parks and Recreation. I was invited by the Chair of the committee, who happens to work for the Arlington Child and Family Services Division, because of my involvement in the community. These experiences have shown me the importance for suicide prevention especially for the LGBT community.
To help set the tone for this blog post, I would like to share some statistics with you regarding suicide.
- In Virginia, about 223,000 adults from 2009-2013 had serious thoughts of suicide.
- In 2014, 278 deaths in Northern Virginia were attributed to suicide.
- Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people ages 10-24.
- The rate of suicide is four times greater for LGB youth.
- In a national study, 40% of transgender adults reported having made a suicide attempt.
- 92% of those individuals reported having attempted suicide before the age of 25.
While it may seem unrelated to Parks and Recreation, I believe Parks and Recreation Departments everywhere contribute greatly to suicide prevention. People often have suicidal thoughts because of feelings of isolation or worthlessness. Recreational programs can actually help community members build connections and add value to your life and self-esteem. I have actually made great friends here at the Community Center because of the classes I have taken, such as Sign Language. The skills I continue to develop give me a greater sense of pride in myself. Of course, if somebody is in the throes of depression, it can be difficult for them to find the motivation to start a class, but Parks and Recreation is only one resource in the greater definition of suicide prevention.
One of the largest issues with suicide prevention is that people avoid talking about suicide and death. In general, death is a very uncomfortable topic for many, and sharing details about suicide is even harder for people to discuss. Mental illness has such a stigma associated with it that people feel too embarrassed to disclose their concerns about their own mental and emotional wellness to even their closest friends and family.
I would not be surprised if most people told me that they have had personal experience with suicide. Depression runs very deeply on both sides of my family. Several family members have attempted suicide and one of my uncles died because of suicide. To me, suicide is especially tragic because it is an emotionally painful way to die. It troubles me to see friends and relatives agonize about what they could have done to provide support and prevent suicide.
We as a community need to come together and have these conversations. On the surface, it may seem like a very difficult thing to do, but it does not have to be. All you need to do to start the conversation is to be open and honest, and establish that you are safe and judgment free person that is open to dialogue. What can be difficult is once you have created that safe environment is figuring out how to provide help should they need more than just a friend to lean on. That is where SPAN comes in. SPAN and local agencies can provide you and your friend with the support and resources you need.
You can learn about just some of the resources available to the residents of Manassas Park through SPAN this Sunday (3/19/2017) from 2pm-5pm at the Manassas Park Community Center. Join our committee for our first public event called Suffering in Silence, which we feel emphasizes the need for communication as a key component to suicide prevention. We will be watching Doing Time on Maple Drive and then an open discussion will follow. The open discussion about the movie will also lead to introductions of community leaders whose organizations are suicide prevention resources. Many of the resources will be geared toward the LGBT community, but many of the connections can provide that same support and compassion. Action in Community Through Service (ACTS); Parents, Families, and Friends of the LGBT Community (PFLAG PWC); the Gay Men’s Health Collaborative (GMHC); and INOVA Juniper are all scheduled to be in attendance.
I would also recommend attending the free showing of “A Will to Survive” hosted at Osbourn High School on 3/24/2017 at 7:00pm. Students in Loudoun County created this well received performance after their good friend died from suicide. Both ACTS and the Center for the Arts at the Candy Factory recommend it. I plan to be there, and I hope that great conversations will follow. There will be many resources available for people to read and to share with others.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, there are resources immediately available. One such resource is the ACTS helpline at 703-368-4141 or 1-800-273-8255, which is available 24/7. I cannot emphasize enough what a wonderful organization ACTS is and how fortunate we are to have them available to us locally here in the Greater Prince William Region. They are informed and compassionate and will be able to help.
I hope you will join me in starting the dialogue about suicide and help add your voice to suicide prevention.
Jason Shriner is the Marketing Manager for the City of Manassas Park, Department of Parks and Recreation. He can be reached at 703-335-8872 or via email at J.Shriner@ManassasParkVA.gov.