Daily News

MHA Takes Suicide-prevention Message to the Streets

SPRINGFIELD — The statistics are sobering. Suicide is the 10th-leading cause of death in the U.S., with 132 suicides per day on average.

However “suicide is preventable when people start talking,” said Jennifer Kelliher, managing director of the Massachusetts Coalition for Suicide Prevention (MCSP). “Every September, we highlight this message through National Suicide Prevention Week — although it is important that our work and our message continue year-round. Community awareness and breaking the silence with public-service announcements and messages, such as the mobile message board sponsored by the Mental Health Association [MHA], and those available on MCSP’s social media, can help people understand how important it is to start a conversation, either when they are concerned about someone they care about or when they are struggling themselves. We need to break the silence around suicide — in September, but also year-round.”

MHA and its partners at the Massachusetts Coalition for Suicide Prevention and the Pioneer Valley Coalition for Suicide Prevention are encouraging conversations that can help to prevent suicide — a national health problem that currently ranks as the second-leading cause of death for ages 10 to 24.

On Sept. 9, a press conference was held at MHA’s Outpatient Behavioral Health Clinic, BestLife, which featured speakers from MHA and the Pioneer Valley Coalition for Suicide Prevention, to introduce a unique and highly visible medium to assist in efforts to deliver suicide-prevention messaging throughout Hampden County.

For the next several weeks, the Stand Out Truck will be visible throughout Hampden County. During the entire month of September and first week of October, messaging will be delivered during the morning and evening commute and as well on weekends. This electronic mobile billboard will deliver messages like “conversations can save lives,” “we hear you,” and “let’s talk it out,” among others, to thousands of Hampden County residents. The headlines were created by O’Brien Advertising to encourage conversations about mental health. Messages are in Spanish as well.

“It’s important to reach people who are having thoughts of suicide or prior to these thoughts wherever possible,” said Sara Kendall, vice president of Clinical Operations for MHA. “Through BestLife, MHA’s outpatient center for emotional health and wellness, people who are anxious, depressed, afraid, or at risk of hurting themselves can talk with someone who cares, who listens, and who can help connect them with supports to assist. BestLife opened in Springfield in 2019, and in a little over a year, we have had conversations with more than 500 individuals in this community — people ready to start talking about their anxiety, their depression, their fears, and thoughts of suicide.

“COVID has certainly added an additional layer of stress,” she added. “More than ever, people are feeling distressed, isolated, frustrated, and confused. So we invite members of the community to join us for a conversation. Whether that conversation happens in person, with appropriate social distancing, or whether it happens virtually using MHA’s TeleWell app to connect interested persons with a licensed MHA counselor, we are ready to start talking. We are ready to listen. We are ready to help by helping people live their best life.”

Anyone who is thinking about suicide or is worried about a friend or loved one can access the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255 for immediate, free, confidential support for people in distress. The Lifeline network is available 24/7 and connects callers with local resources and supports.