MYRTLE BEACH — There were more suicides in South Carolina than homicides in the past three years, according to Mental Health America of South Carolina, and organizations such as the Coastal Samaritan Counseling Center hope to be able to stem those numbers.
The center will host three suicide prevention trainings this week to coincide with National Suicide Prevention Week. The trainings, offered for the first time by Coastal Samaritan, will be held Wednesday and Thursday in Myrtle Beach, Pawleys Island and Conway.
About 70 percent of people who have attempted or completed suicide have never sought counseling, said Coastal Samaritan Executive Director Kathy T. Heustess.
“We want to train people to recognize the signs and symptoms so they can help,” she said.
Heustess said that six people commit suicide every five days in South Carolina and it touches all demographics.
The Rev. Greg Hill, director of consultative services at the nonprofit organization, said they hope to train those who are people of influence in their communities.
“Pastors, youth group leaders, teachers, first-responders, people who come in contact with the public,” Hill said. “Suicide is 100 percent preventable. These … trainings teach people how to intervene, to instill hope and to save lives.”
Attendees will receive QPR training, which stands for question-persuade-refer, and become “gatekeepers” taught to recognize warning signs, clues and suicidal communications of people in trouble, according to a press release from Coastal Samaritan.
“The first thing you do is ask ‘are you considering suicide,’ ”Hill said.
Heustess said many people are afraid to use the word.
“I think they’re afraid that if they ask the question, it might spur them to do it. But that’s not the case,” she said.
Monday is World Suicide Prevention Day – which has been recognized for 10 years, according to the International Association for Suicide Prevention website.
“The efforts of this decade are founded on research evidence that we can prevent suicide,” according to the website. “The most important aim of this initiative … is raising awareness among the scientific community and the general population that suicide is preventable. Hence we must reduce the stigma and silence that still surrounds it.”
Heustess and Hill pointed out that it’s not only suicide, but issues of mental health in general that have a stigma, adding the field is often overlooked when it comes to health care.
“It’s startling that as a state we haven’t been able to get people to mental health [facilities],” Heustess said.
According to a November 2011 report by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, from 2009 to 2012, South Carolina cut 39.3 percent of its total general fund mental health budget, the most of any state. According to the report, the state cut $6.7 million from fiscal year 2011 to fiscal year 2012.
“State agencies are turning away people and it puts a burden on nonprofits to catch the rest,” she said.
According to the QPR training materials, warning signs of suicide include expressions of hopelessness, depression, giving away prized possessions, talking of about suicide and securing lethal means.
Hill said he hopes people will learn about the QPR program offered by Coastal Samaritan and request more trainings be given.
Contact MAYA T. PRABHU at 444-1722.