Suicide prevention inspires local, national activism

By Brooke Gunzelman | Contributing Writer

On a fall evening, a crowd gathered on the lawn of the Theta Chi fraternity house at The University of Alabama to remember and say goodbye to a fellow student, friend, boyfriend, brother and son.

A few days earlier, on Oct. 6, 2014, Parker Jordan, a 22-year-old accounting student at the University, died at the Theta Chi house.

Later that week, 742 participants gathered on the Quad to support the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s fundraiser, the Out of the Darkness Community Walk. Jordan’s fraternity led the walk in memory of their brother. According to AFSP, the goal of the campaign is “to raise funds and awareness to walk in a world without suicide.” Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students. The fundraiser’s goal was $10,000, but the event reached a total of almost $39,000 with Theta Chi as the 
top fundraiser.

One of the speakers at the walk was Mary Turner, founder of the Tuscaloosa chapter of Survivors of Suicide, a support group for those dealing with the suicide of a loved one. When Turner was 16, she lost her father to suicide, and 25 years later she also lost her mother to suicide. Then, in 2011, Turner also lost her older brother to suicide. After her father’s death, Turner said she turned to alcohol, but when her mother died in 2004, she started going to a Birmingham support group, which led her to start SOS Tuscaloosa.

“When I went to the group initially, I went there to find out why my mother killed herself,” Turner said. “What I ended up finding out is that I would learn how to laugh again. I would be able to go on, when at times I didn’t think I would. I think it’s very important for people to have that resource to help them cope with it.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 40,600 suicides were reported in 2012. According to AFSP, 90 percent of people who died by suicide were suffering from a mental disorder at the time but were often not recognized, diagnosed or adequately treated.

The Counseling Center at the University recognizes the need for resources year-round, offering individual and group meetings at the center or in residence halls, classes, and fraternities and sororities.

“If we were in a restaurant and someone was having a cardiac event, no one would just sit there; someone would stand up and get help,” said Lee Keyes, executive director of the Counseling Center. “When it comes to mental health, unfortunately a lot of people do just let it go.”

The center also provides a suicide prevention program, Question, Persuade and Refer, which visits campus groups. The center is working on a door knock event, going door-to-door in residence halls to provide educational material on mental health and suicide.

“It ought to be common, everyday knowledge how to provide mental health first aid,” Keyes said. “That we know the signs of someone who is in distress, that we express our concern to that individual, and we do everything we can to get 
them help.”

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