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Conversation on Veterans Suicide Prevention Continues

NAMI Candlelight Vigil
NAMI's candlelight vigil last month, where Sam Hudson (center) attended to remember his friend and to support veterans whose lives are affected by mental illness. /Credit: Kaitlyn Schwers

Last month we heard from a local organization working to spread awareness for suicide prevention amid the alarming rate of veterans who’ve taken their own lives. KSMU’s Shane Franklin tells us what they learned since their first candlelight vigil and how the community can get involved this week.

Dewyane Long is the executive director for the southwest Missouri chapter of NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. He says since their first ceremony last month, honoring veterans fallen to suicide, they’ve made a greater effort to reach out to local veterans groups, making sure more service men and woman, and their friends and families, know about the event. Long says this time they’ve done a better job promoting the event, which can be hard because often people have a hard time discussing suicide.

“We need to try to find a way to open up because as long as people harbor that within themselves, those situations don’t get any better. But when we start talking about it as a society and as a community, we can raise awareness and we can learn that there are tools, there are programs, that help educate individuals to the signs and the symptoms, so they can intervene and save a life,” says Long.

One such program is the Veterans Crisis Line, which according to its website has answered over 814,000 calls from veterans or their loved ones because they think a veteran is considering suicide or has tried to commit suicide. Since 2007, the hotline has documented saving more than 28,000 lives.

The Veterans Crisis Line encourages friends and family of veterans to call because they’ll be the first to notice when their loved one is in distress or at risk for suicide.

Long says that awareness really is the key.

“We need to make our community aware that there are men and women who gave on the battlefields in foreign lands who are now fighting battles in their minds here at home, and often, on average 22 times a day, they lose that battle,” says Long.

This is why the local NAMI is hosting two events this week. The first is a gathering at the Old Courthouse on Boonville, Thursday night at 9. The Second is a the 7th annual “Illuminating  the Darkness” Suicide Prevention 5K Run, Friday evening at 7, at the Forest Institute on Battlefield.

For KSMU News, I’m Shane Franklin.