By Dustin Rich
In a community with a diverse population of young adults, many of the pressing problems effecting this demographic go unmentioned or even unnoticed.
M.A.D.–H.O.P.E an acronym for “Making a difference, helping people everywhere,” is a youth suicide prevention organization dedicated to the youth of Whatcom.
The goal is to call attention to a problem affecting many kids behind the blinds. By addressing the means in which individuals can help someone in need, the group hopes to have a positive effect on the people struggling with thoughts of suicide.
Lead by Jeff Mckenna along with help from Cattie Fogelsong, M.A.D.- H.O.P.E. held a 90-minute workshop designed to give participants the knowledge and skills to recognize the warning signs of suicide, intervene during a crisis, and getting professional help for an individual at risk of suicide.
Mckenna introduces the idea that if serious diseases such as AIDS, cancer, and other life-threatening conditions could be cured simply by talking about them, anyone would offer their time; he goes on further to suggest that deaths by suicide can be stopped by community involved discussions.
The workshop initially addresses the stigma about suicide in today’s culture, M.A.D.-H.O.P.E suggests that this stigma is one of the leading causes contributing to a lack of necessary help. Often seen as an easy way out, society reinforces the idea that people considering suicide are weak for not choosing to directly confront their problems.
Mckenna and Fogelsong teach that stigmas result from a lack of knowledge. This lack of knowledge is what then gets defined as ignorance. Ignorance coupled with a negative attitude that affect peoples actions can make suicide thinkers feel even worse about their mind state than they had previously. This is exactly the type of stigma M.A.D. – H.O.P.E. is trying to redefine in today’s culture.
Everyone needs help every now and then and sometimes it is just as easy as a conversation. The video “Time Machine” by Austin Mansell shown during the M.A.D.- H.O.P.E. training session illustrated this idea in a relatable way.
“You are a giant trapped inside the body of an ant. You are a hurricane, a monsoon, a rainbow trapped inside a mason jar. Everyone at some point in their life has needed help opening a mason jar, they’d be lying if they said they hadn’t,” said Mansell in the video.
Whatcom county school councilors alongside students founded the organization in 2011. By coming together and building an instructional program, they took what is known about the false stigma behind suicide, the recognizable signs of a student in suicidal distress, and how to intervene when necessary.
Since being founded, Mckenna and Fogelsong have been teaching their seminar all over Whatcom including high schools, colleges, and even to nursing students.
Suicide awareness and prevention information is more than relevant to the youth of Whatcom County says Mckenna. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, in the United States alone, more than 4,600 deaths by suicide are recorded annually.
In Washington State approximately two suicides happen every week, making suicide the second leading cause of death among people ages 12-24, according to a report by the Washington State Department of Health. A national study referenced in the M.A.D.- H.O.P.E. seminar stated that 50 percent of transgender individuals in the U.S. have attempt suicide at least once by age 20. A mental health report published by the UW School of Social Work stated that 95 percent of suicide victims could be diagnosed with a mental illness but this doesn’t decrease the severity of the problem.
By recognizing signs of a person contemplating suicide, anyone can make a difference according to Fogelsong. Increasing someone’s chances of reconsidering their options is often times nothing short of saving a life. M.A.D. –H.O.P.E. emphasizes that trusting gut instincts are necessary when deciding whether or not to confront someone about his or her feelings. Then, taking a leap of faith on this instinct and being direct with someone although the questions might be hard to ask.
People die every day from preventable means. Saving someone’s life can be dramatic but can also be simple according to Mckenna and Fogelsong.
“It could mean recognizing warning signs and talking to someone. It could also be just as simple as listening and being nice to your friends, family or even strangers.” Said Mckenna
The suicide awareness and prevention work M.A.D- H.O.P.E actively attempts to facilitate is about helping people who are in need or suffering. If you are interested or would like to know more about the program M.A.D.- H.O.P.E teaches, information can be found online, along with a list of other recourses.