Thursday, September 15, 2016

Remarks by Allie Schlafer at World Suicide Prevention Day Candlelight Vigil

Hello and good evening. First, I would like to introduce myself. My name is Allie Schlafer and I am a current serving Peace Corps Response volunteer at both SASOD and Guyana Trans United, specializing in the field of mental health. For those who may not know, the Peace Corps is a volunteer program run by the United States government in efforts to address social and economic development worldwide.

As a volunteer, I will be working in collaboration with SASOD to strengthen and support the staff in addressing mental health concerns within the community. The comments and views I express tonight are in no way affiliated with Peace Corps but are my personal opinions based on experience working in community mental health and also individual experiences of losing dear friends who have taken their own life.

We are gathered here on World Suicide Prevention Day to address the difficult and painful subject of suicide, a reality which fractures the happiness of too many families, individuals, and communities across Guyana. The loss of a family member, friend, coworker or peer through suicide is a devastating experience. Those who remain after a suicide are often overwhelmed by feelings of sadness, hurt, and regret; they struggle to adapt or understand a life robbed of the presence of a loved one, often times grappling with the simple question – why?

Suicide is neither simply a personal nor a social issue, but rather a more complex problem that is impossible to attribute to a predictable pattern of biological, social, psychological or cultural factors. What we do know, however, is that many of those contemplating suicide are experiencing overwhelming pain and emotional grief. This pain is often made more extreme by the influences of societal pressures, stigma and discrimination, a pattern that is all too familiar for many LGBT brothers and sisters. Sadly, when someone dies by suicide, the pain they felt is not removed but rather is passed on to their friends, family and community.

Stigma, the unfair bias or societal judgment directed toward a certain person or people group, is one of the most damaging factors undermining personal well-being. Often times, those living with a mental illness in the LGBT community are faced with a double stigma and suffer discrimination both in their public and private lives. The weight of stigma can lead to feelings of isolation, rejection, and questions about self-worth. Perhaps, the greatest tragedy of all is that stigma often keeps people from seeking help when they need it most.

Stigma alone can be difficult to face, but when coupled with mental health concerns it can lead to even greater isolation. Those suffering from mental health issues are not afflicted with a communicable disease, but according to the United States National Mental Health Association, there is a growing body of evidence that suicide itself can be contagious. The phenomenon of suicide contagion has been widely studied to show an increase in suicides due to media portrayal of the incident as well as societal attitudes that may romanticize suicide, particularly in the context of personal relationships. Publicity surrounding a suicide has been repeatedly linked to a subsequent increase in suicide, especially among young people.

Allie speaking at the World Suicide Prevention Day Candlelight Vigil 

So where do we go from here? As we stand tonight in honor of brothers and sisters dear to our hearts, let us look towards those of us still standing. We, survivors, have a choice to do things differently the next time. Chances are, each one of us has faced the loss of a loved one to suicide, but few of us have taken the time to process and heal those losses together as a community. The answers do not solely lie with medical and mental health professionals, politicians and policy makers, but with each individual within our community.

Stigma and discrimination often leads to isolation, but that does not have to be the case. If you or someone you know is hurting, please reach out. Form a home team of those you can trust when life becomes a bit more difficult. Be aware of the way you discuss and use social media in the wake of a loss as it may impact others. Know your resources and who to call in the event of an emergency. And above all, know you are not alone. We as a community must take a stand to ensure that no one else gets left behind, and the only way we can do that is by standing together.

If you or someone you know has a concern or question, or simply wants to be connected to more resources about suicide prevention, please do not hesitate to reach out to SASOD.

Read full story here. 

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