The Brazos Valley Coalition on Suicide Prevention’s second annual Suicide Prevention Conference, a free event hosted Wednesday in Downtown Bryan, drew more than 200 teachers, police officers, clergy members, health care professionals and parents.

Nine speakers, ranging from mental health professionals to survivors affected by a loved one’s suicide, shared advice and offered a variety of resources.

“You have far more power than you think,” said Dr. Ryan M. Hill, assistant professor at the Baylor College of Medicine, Texas Children’s Hospital. “Suicide seems like a problem that’s too big to solve, but the reality is that throughout our history as a country, we have repeatedly overcome things people thought were impossible.”

Hill addressed the crowd seated in the gymnasium at First United Methodist Church of Bryan, following a program that included discussions of post-traumatic stress in veterans, suicide amongst first responders, suicide in adolescents, loved ones’ grief following suicide and other topics. From morning till late afternoon, conference attendees received guidance on psychological issues and networked with 15 partnering organizations represented, including the National Alliance On Mental Illness (NAMI) and BlueCross BlueShield of Texas.

Hill specifically addressed the growing trend in suicide, which spiked exponentially for young people in the United States from 2007 to 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control. He stressed the need not only for individual counseling, but also for a systematic approach to combating suicide rates. He used the metaphor of stacking together slices of Swiss cheese to illustrate how different approaches to suicide prevention each have merit despite gaps or “holes” in effectiveness, and combined together, a system of multiple organizations and prevention plans will effectively close the gaps through which suicidal people slip through.

“A lot of times we’re afraid to ask kids if they’re suicidal,” said speaker Morgan Marks of Tennessee’s curriculum-based teen suicide prevention organization the Jason Foundation. “Why? [Because] we’re afraid they’ll do it.”

Talking to people about suicidal thoughts and feelings is an important step in prevention, however, Marks explained.

Marks shared several statistics, quoting a 2017 CDC study that revealed more than 30 percent of Texas teenagers struggle with long-standing feelings of hopelessness, and that more than 17% have contemplated suicide over the course of one year. He urged the audience to recognize risk factors in people, including isolation, increased anxiety, behavioral changes, changes in academic performance, changes in appearance and changes in peer relationships. He stressed the need for more open conversations about suicide and emotions and offered suggestions for school curriculum and the Jason Foundation’s phone app “A Friend Asks.”

Hill reminded the audience that suicide happens in every town, and 130 children die of suicide in America each week, making it an important issue for all people.

“I urge you not to leave here with the ‘not my child’ syndrome,” he said.

Doug Vance, president of the Brazos Valley Coalition on Suicide Prevention, said he had received positive feedback from attendees about the event.

“We wanted to educate people on the rise of suicide, show them how to recognize signs and symptoms, and [teach them] what to do about it,” Vance said. “We wanted people to leave here with the conviction to talk with their family members going home every day.”

To learn more about the Coalition, visit www.facebook.com/bvcosp or call 979-450-1752. For anyone struggling with suicidal ideation, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.

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