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Published on August 16, 2017

woman feeling sad

Coming Together to Share Hope

She started it six years ago with a simple goal: that a few people would show up and realize they were not alone in the face of the grim reality of suicide.

Avera St. Mary’s Foundation training coordinator Julie Moore said that goal was the genesis of the sixth-annual suicide prevention walk that she and the Foundation will host Sept. 9 in Pierre. From this simple starting point, more people have joined the event as well as the effort to help those at risk for suicide.

“We see survivors, but we also see more people coming who are looking for help themselves,” Moore said. “We are here to break the stigma too often associated with mental health issues. That stigma has to go. Lives depend on it.”

Changing History

Moore said that while the increasing numbers of participants in the walk gives her solace, the recent history of the city has grim reminders. At one point, Pierre was considered a hotspot for suicide. The survivors – and those who love them – found it hard to talk about, not knowing what to say.

“One of the first things we encourage people to learn, as we help them to understand how suicide interventions work, is that people do not commit suicide. They complete it,” Moore said. “The word commit – we are diligent in working to remove that from the discussion.”

Moore expanded on this idea, mentioning that people “commit” murder or other crimes

“Commit is a common denominator that often signifies a crime or another act of wrongdoing, such as adultery, but a person who attempts suicide or dies by suicide is experiencing deep emotional pain, hopelessness or mental illness – or all of the above,” she said. “Such pain does not make someone a criminal; the word ‘commits’ makes suicide sound like a crime. By rejecting the use of that word, we are showing respectful care for people suicide affects, as well as being accurate in relation to their experience.”

Moore’s duties with the Foundation include serving as coordinator for its suicide prevention program. She said more and more people have been trained, as she has, to serve in intervention roles to thwart suicide. While the rate has declined, the efforts continue.

“We need to educate more people to help more people, and our other objective is to intervene and remind people, especially those who suffer from anxiety and depression, that there are resources, and that they can get help,” she said. “Those who need help – we have to surround them with resources, and when people attend our event, they learn about the help that’s out there.”

The Two Sides

Moore has led a number of interventions, and she said the split-second decision that can accompany a suicide completion comes from an internal fight between the “Life” and “Death” sides of a person who is facing struggling.

“People will often say ‘I can’t get my grades up’ or other things, and that is why they want to die, and that’s their Death side talking,” she said. “They often will say ‘I want to die, but …’ and that’s the key – that’s the Life side talking. We try to draw that out and get them to realize they can find things to help themselves.”

When people realize they can do so, Moore said that is where her role as intervention leader ends and the counselor’s important part in treatment begins.

“Tearing down the stigma that goes with mental health, and replacing it with the idea that there are ways to overcome mental illness – that’s at the heart of our event and all the work we do,” Moore said. “We remind anyone and everyone who faces depression, anxiety or other mental illnesses that there are resources that can help you find hope and go on with life.”

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