After a 2010 survey revealed that the Northwest Georgia region, and particularly Floyd County, had the highest number of suicide victims in the state, Georgia offered the county a grant to come up with ways to lessen the numbers. From there, Healing Hearts, the Floyd County Suicide Prevention Coalition, formed.
More than 100 professionals across the region gathered at Georgia Highlands College on Friday to participate in the Healing Hearts Suicide Prevention Conference, which covered topics from recognizing the signs to available support groups in the area.
Those who attended ranged from mental health professionals and law enforcement to social workers, government officials and school counselors.
Carol Willis, executive director for the Floyd County Commission on Children and Youth, said the conference was a success.
“This is the first time we’ve ever done this,” she said. “In 2010 we were challenged by the state when they saw the numbers for suicide in our community and in the region, they challenged us to form a coalition that would pull people together … to try and turn things around.”
Willis said she wasn’t expecting such a big turnout for the conference.
“This conference is really a big deal for us, it’s pulled together a lot of what we do,” she said. “We have right at 100 people participating from at least seven counties, there are 20 college students from four different colleges here. We’re very pleased and somewhat surprised at the tremendous response we’ve had.”
Iris Bolton, a nationally recognized expert on suicide, was a featured speaker at the conference. Having lost her son to suicide in 1977, she started one of the first survivor support groups in the country. In 1983, Bolton published her book, “My Son, My Son: A Guide to Healing after Death, Loss or Suicide.” Bolton spoke to conference-goers about her long, healing journey, as well as offered guidance.
Bill Schoepski, former director of special education at Floyd County Schools, attended the conference and said it helped identify prevention and support groups in the community. Schoepski, one of the organizers for team training sessions among Floyd County educators seeking to prevent bullying and suicide among students, said the conference was past due.
“What this has done for us and the schools is connect us with what’s going to be going on in the community,” he said. “We’ve identified kids with problems, but if we don’t have a place to refer them to, we’re offering them nothing. For me, that’s huge.”
Ashley Chapman, a family violence assessor and outreach advocate at the Hospitality House, said the conference was very useful in helping her understand how to connect with those who are experiencing suicidal thoughts.
“With survivors of domestic violence, many of them are just confused and hurting and sad and desperate and, of course, you might be having some people who are having some suicidal thoughts,” she said. “So we do, of course, need to come to meetings like this and learn to assess that and understand that on a deeper level.”
For more information about Healing Hearts and the Survivors of Suicide Support Group that meets the fourth Tuesday of each month at the GHC Floyd campus from 5:30 to 7 p.m., contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 706-413-2111.