Suicide Prevention kick-off held at Jackson General

Three long, narrow sheets of canvas hung on a black frame at Jackson-Madison County General Hospital Wednesday, with the sheets tied up with rope and displaying a rainbow of colors and patterns.

The artwork, inscribed with words like “Why?” and “Suicide,” was designed at the hands of more than 30 suicide survivors and attempters, said Erin Hornsby, whose cousin — Mica Breeden Martin — committed suicide in 2011. Eileen Wallach, founder of Your Heart on Art, helped oversee the art project to provide a therapeutic experience for those overcoming traumatic events.

Displayed during the hospital’s kick-off for September’s Suicide Prevention Month, the mural — titled “In the Raw” — was designed to raise awareness for suicide prevention in Tennessee, said Hornsby, who has since developed the Team Mica Fund for suicide awareness in Madison, Hardeman, Gibson and Chester counties.

“The suicide rate is 12 percent higher in (rural) areas,” said Hornsby, noting that a lack of social integration and reduced availability to mental health facilities and counseling contributes to the high suicide rates. “Our goal is to create awareness of suicide and release the stigma that is tied to it.”

More than 900 Tennesseans committed suicide in 2013 alone, said Melissa Sparks, director of crisis services and suicide prevention for the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. Due to the high number of suicides, Tennessee is joining the national Zero Suicides movement to help reduce the number of suicides.

Sparks said the movement includes health agencies closing the gaps found in patient care. Agencies will be encouraged to not leave patients “out there on their own,” she said. The risk of suicide is highest within 30 days after a person has a primary care visit, has a emergency department visit or has been discharged from an inpatient psychiatric facility, she added.

“It sounds very ambitious, but we should always be working toward the goal of zero suicides,” Sparks said. “We may never totally accomplish that, but with that goal in mind, it will make us work harder to try to accomplish it.”

Sparks encouraged people to also carefully monitor their family and friends for signs of suicidal thoughts. Checking on people or asking if someone is feeling suicidal can reveal important hints that a person is feeling hopeless or overcome with negative emotions.

“We need to be really diligent in reaching out to each other and embracing each other, supporting each other,” Sparks said. “We’ve got to do a better job of that and not just sit back and wait for someone to come out and say ‘I’m suicidal.'”

Reach Beth Knoll at (731) 425-9641. Follow her on Twitter @merribethknoll.

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