June 20, 2018

CSM Works to Prevent Suicide

Prevent Suicide
Members of the Montpelier Farm Team gather for a photo before the Out of the Darkness Campus Walk at the College of Southern Maryland Leonardtown Campus on May 5. The team was organized by Laura McKinney of Clements who lost her fiancé to suicide just one year ago.

Dozens of people who have lost a loved one to suicide — a high school classmate, a fiancé, a son, a friend, a parent — as well as those who may have thought about suicide themselves and others wishing to offer their support to raise awareness and help prevent suicide came to the College of Southern Maryland Leonardtown Campus on May 5 for an Out of the Darkness Campus Walk.

More than 85 walkers participated, raising more than $3,300 in the local walk, the first held at CSM as part of the annual events supporting the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s local and national education and advocacy programs.

Laura McKinney of Clements organized the biggest team of walkers, the Montpelier Farm Team, as she brough about 30 family members and friends along to support the cause. Ms. McKinney lost her fiancé to suicide just last year. “So, as a family, we just try to stay as close as possible, and we walk to show support for anyone who is troubled who thinks this is their only option,” she said. “There’s always hope.”

Maryland AFSP board member Susan Maskaleris of Waldorf lost her father to suicide when she was just 14. “We need to start talking about suicide,” Ms. Maskaleris said. “Don’t be afraid of the word. People are suffering out there and they need help. … If you can use the word, you are a safe person to talk to.”

Paige Baugher, 18, of Lexington Park is a dual enrollment student at Great Mills High School and CSM. She raised $220 as of May 5 for the walk, placing her among the largest contributors to the event. She made the effort to raise money and participate in the walk because her class at GMHS lost a fellow student to suicide when he was 17. “It had a big impact on us,” Ms. Baugher said. “I raised the money for him and anyone else who is struggling.”

Suicide is a critical health issue. It is the 10th leading cause of death in the US and the 12th leading cause in Maryland. In this state, suicide is the third leading cause of death for ages 15 to 34. It is the first leading cause of death for ages 10 to 14.

The reasons for suicide are complex. However, it most often happens when stressors exceed the coping abilities of a person who suffers from a mental health condition, according to the AFSP.

Out of the Darkness Walks, like the recent event sponsored by CSM, raise money for education, advocacy, research, and programs in the community. “There’s hope and there’s healing,” said Maryland AFSP board member Greg Reuss as he walked the route in Leonardtown. A close co-worker died by suicide in 2005, turning Mr. Reuss into an advocate to prevent suicide, and he now leads AFSP’s firearm safety and suicide prevention program across the state. Then, just three years ago, Reuss’ adult son also took his life, compounding Reuss’ commitment to the cause.

“Mental health is treatable, and suicide is preventable. That’s my mantra,” Mr. Reuss said, adding that prevention of suicide is “absolutely a team sport,” in which family, friends, mental health professionals, and the community can all play a part.

Recent CSM graduate Michael Miranda of Owings, who worked at the walk’s registration table, spoke of his own thoughts of suicide several years ago. “It’s very personal to me,” Mr. Miranda said of the walk’s purpose. “I really want to eliminate the stigma.”

The CSM walk was co-chaired by CSM mental health counselor Jennifer Fossell and CSM student Derek Adams. They were helped by Walk Committee members Director of Student Affairs Kevin Hunter, associate professor Barbara Link, student life coordinator Jennifer Van Cory, enrollment adviser Latasha Baker, student success coordinator Laura Robins and academic adviser Martha Maratta.

Ms. Fossell said Mr. Adams was a big force in convincing the college to host the walk, which was co-sponsored by the college and CSM CARES, a college club in support of mental health programs at CSM. Mr. Adams, a 20-year-old criminal justice student from Hollywood, said that the topic needs to be addressed. “I feel this is an important issue that we as a community need to tackle and solve,” Mr. Adams said. “I just want to do my part and help out with the community. This issue impacts us as a campus and off campus and all age ranges, I feel. … Some more awareness and some more community outreach like this…. I am excited to finally see it occur.”

A local grief counselor, Melinda Ruppert, LCPC, was at the walk to talk to anyone who “needs a listening ear,” she said. Ms. Ruppert’s No. 1 message to anyone struggling with suicidal thoughts is “to let someone know that you’re feeling that way.”

“Please ask for help,” echoed AFSP Maryland Area Director Kat Olbrich. “Ninety percent of all suicide is related to mental health, which is treatable.” Out of the Darkness Walks happen in the spring and are hosted by high schools, colleges or universities. CSM’s walk was one of five in the state this year. In the fall, there are community Out of the Darkness Walks. For instance, a Southern Maryland Walk is planned at Historic St. Mary’s City on Sept. 15. To register, find out more online.

A variety of resources can help people dealing with suicidal thoughts or concerns about other’s well-being. The AFSP recommends that people at-risk visit a primary care doctor or mental health provider to talk about their concerns.

For help in finding a mental health provider, visit this site or this one. There is also a National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255); veterans, press 1.

Anyone interested or in need of help also text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained counselor from the Crisis Text Line for free.

For information on counseling services available to CSM students, visit the college’s website. Donations related to the CSM walk can be accepted through June 30 at the event website.

For more about the College of Southern Maryland, visit its Leader member page.

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