Stokes County has long battled against issues with suicide, frequently facing the tough reality of having one of the highest per capita rates in the state.
But a new club at the Stokes Early College spent last week addressing the problem from the student level, ending an afternoon fund- and awareness-raising even last Friday.
Junior Austin Love helped found the Student Campaign for Suicide Prevention after learning that the county ranked number three in the state for the highest suicide rates.
“I went to a suicide prevention summit in Raleigh last May,” said Love. “I had been looking into the issue of suicide for years, trying to learn what the mindset for it was. Then I went to this event and leaned some prevention tactics.”
Love came back to the county determined to help curb the problem.
“I knew quite a few people who had been considering suicide,” he said. “It had been something that ever since I was in middle school it was talked about by people individually but you never heard about it on a grand scale.”
So he decided to do something that would help raise awareness and let students know where they could turn to for help if they needed it.
“We teamed up with some vendors here, CenterPoint, Youth Move, Insight and a couple of others,” he said. The club hosted vendors in the school during lunch periods for the whole week. “When we met with CenterPoint, we learned that it was hard for adults to get to kids, but if you get a student to talk to a student it really gets the message across better.
“There were a lot of people who did not know that any of these support agencies existed,” he said. “You have to explain that these are people that are willing to help.”
The week of awareness raising culminated in a special event on Friday where students could pay to throw a whipped cream pie in the face of club members and staff at Stokes Early College.
“It helped us raise money and helped spread awareness,” said Love. “We plan to continue to raise money during September and are going to donate everything to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. They take that money and put toward raising awareness and for research.”
Love said he hopes to spread the event to other schools in the county next year.
“We are going to sit down with CenterPoint and school counselors from North, South and West,” he said. “We will find sponsors for the club and then try to set up leaders at each school and have a county-wide board that everything comes back to. That board will be a link between all the resources and getting them to the schools. If all of the county is working on it at the same time then it will have a much bigger impact.”
Love said he hopes to have plans for next year in place at each school before the end of this school year.
“That way when they come back in August they will be ready to launch it in early September,” he said.
In the meantime, Love has some advice for students across the county.
“If you are considering suicide, it is more than okay to ask for help,” he said. “Look out there for resources, we have plenty of them. If someone you talk to can’t help you, then they can lead you to the right place. If you know someone you think might be suicidal, the first thing I would recommend is to ask them. It is okay to ask. if the community can all work together on this then I think we could reach zero suicides.”
CenterPoint Human Services maintains a 24-hour hotline for mental health issues. CenterPoint is a contractor working with health departments in Stokes, Forsyth, Davie and Rockingham Counties. The number is 888-581-9988.
Nicholas Elmes may be reached at 336-591-8191 or on Twitter @NicholasElmes.