Social media invite draws a crowd around town square.
After seeing a photo online about suicide awareness/ prevention day, Franklin High School freshman Amber Sellino decided to turn to social media to get her friends involved, but the chain reaction she started, was far greater than she could ever imagine.
Sept. 10 was first designated as National Suicide Prevention day by the non-profit organization To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA). The organization, devoted to the prevention and healing of depression, addiction, selfinjury and suicide, has supporters doing what the brand calls for. As Monday, Sept. 10 is National Suicide Prevention Day, members of the organization showed their support, which is where Sellino fits into the national effort to work toward suicide prevention.
On Sept. 4, Sellino created a Facebook event called “Suicide Awareness Day” and sent an invitation to her entire friends list. After having friends who have thought about suicide, and knowing people who have been affected by it, Sellino wanted her friends to take part in TWLOHA's Suicide Prevention Day by wearing yellow or by simply writing “Love” on their arm. After sending out the invitation she waited, and over the next few days she and her mother, Tracy, watched as more and more people shared the event. Quickly the Facebook group grew and had people from all around the country commenting on the group’s wall and showing their support by pledging to wear yellow. To date, the group has nearly 1,300 members from all around the world sharing their stories and supporting others, all because of what one girl in Franklin did.
“I saw a picture on Tumblr.com that read ‘September 10, 2012 is Suicide Awareness Day; Wear Yellow,’” said Sellino. “So I made the event on my Facebook and invited my whole friends list. I didn't think that my event would get to another state let alone country!”
Sellino said that she wanted to take part in the national effort to reach those affected by suicide because she felt she could make a difference. “Because of the event, the people who have thought about suicide now see that people do care, and they're talking about their stories and reaching out for help,” she said.
Sellino's mother Tracy said that she was not surprised to learn about her daughter's crusade to show her support. “I really was not surprised about the subject matter she picked for her event. Amber has always been a child with a good heart and is compassionate,” said Tracy. “In her own way I feel she is doing this to honor her cousin, Ryan Ray. Ryan passed away two years ago October. Ryan suffered from early in his childhood with ADD and learning disabilities. His classmates at school would make fun of him because he was unable to do math or read well. Ryan eventually tried to cover his pain and depression with drugs. Ryan's choices resulted in a slow suicide, Ryan eventually overdosed on heroin at 18 years old.”
Tracy was also surpised by the number of responses that a simple Facebook event was able to generate. “I am extremely excited and proud of the success of Amber's event on Facebook,” she said. “She received over 1,250 confirmed participants and over 10,600 invites were forwarded between users to get the word out.”
Evident by the number of people who have posted on Sellino's Facebook page about having suicidal thoughts due to depression and anxiety, Tracy said that Amber's event is important because for some, it is their only outlet to talk about their feelings. “Some people are fearful to talk face to face with others for fear of rejection, others may not have the financial means or health insurance to cover seeing a therapist,” said Tracy. “Amber's event offered an open venue for people to post their situation and many many people gave support from their hearts unconditionally.”
In conjunction with Suicide Awareness Day, Tracy is working with her daughter to compile a book of faces of people affected by suicide. “Amber's success has even inspired [us] to follow up this event with a self published book about the event and what we personally have learned from the experience,” said Tracy. “We plan to call it : ‘Suicide Awareness Day 2012 Faces of Love.’ Our hope is to let people see that there are better choices than suicide.”
In the future, Sellino hopes to work with her classmates at Franklin High School and work toward helping anyone who has been affected by suicide. “I want to make an event every year, and follow the organization ‘To Write Love On Her Arms,’ they have all the dates and announce what color you're suppose to wear each year for the day,” she said. “They also have other days that they announce that have to do with suicide awareness, bullying, things like that.”
After receiving an invite through Facebook Franklin High School senior Cole McCauley posted a message on Sellino’s awareness page that he had become suddenly inspired and felt led to do something. In a matter of days, McCauley organized a gathering at Town Square on Tuesday evening to talk about his experiences with suicide and to help Sellino get the word out about suicide prevention. With just days to plan the event, McCauley rounded up performers and singers to help put on the event, which was attended by nearly 100 people, most of whom wore yellow in support of suicide awareness.
“This isn’t something that is a hot topic of discussion and it should be,” said McCauley. I wanted to help Amber spread awareness.”
McCauley and some of his friends presented an inspiring play portraying some of the things that can lead to suicide such as drinking and drugs as well as peer pressure. McCauley lost his mother to suicide two years ago on the very day he held his gathering. Now Sellino and McCauley have formed a mutual friendship that a week ago did not exist as they did not know one another until now.
Sellino and Franklin High School were not alone on Monday, but instead were a part of a group of students of both high schools and colleges across the country that reminded those around them about the importance of National Suicide Awareness Day, as the To Write Love on Her Arms website makes its mission to honor.
Social media was full of people supporting the cause on Monday as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram were full of pictures of wrists and arms inked with the word “love” in remembrance of the 30,000 people in the U.S. that commit suicide yearly, according to the World Health Organization. The idea of writing “love” on supporter’s arms comes from the story upon which the organization is based. The story of a young woman dealing with a rough life of drugs, abuse, depression and self-mutilation set the groundwork for the company’s founders to help those suffering through faith-based healing. The story can be read at the To Write Love on Her Arms website, in addition to facts and resources for finding help for those suffering from depression, addiction, self-injury, suicide or another issues plaguing the youth.
Suicide in Macon County
Although it is not an easy conversation to start, suicide is not totally absent here in Macon County. According to Macon County Sheriff Robbie Holland, the Sheriff's Department handled three cases in the county last year that dealt with confirmed suicide. That number has doubled so far in 2012 and with three months left in the year, Holland said there have already been six suicides in the county this year.
The increase in the number of suicides is not unique to Macon County, as all of North Carolina has seen a rise in the number of suicide related deaths, according to the North Carolina Institute of Medicine (NCIOM).
An NCIOM task force made up of mental health leaders and advocates from around the state recommends a comprehensive coordinated plan, including education, screening and treatment to be implemented in all communities. Each year more than 1,000 North Carolinians die from suicide, more than 6,000 people are hospitalized due to self-inflicted injuries and more than 8,000 are treated in emergency departments. In North Carolina, the state suicide death rate was 13.7 per 100,000 people in 2007 and has been consistently higher than the national average since 1999. Suicide deaths in the state resulted in more years of potential life lost for individuals under age 65 than homicide, congenital abnormalities, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) or diabetes.
Many people who die by suicide have an underlying mental illness or substance use disorder. National data suggest that 90 percent of suicides are associated with some form of mental illness. In North Carolina, 37 percent of the males and 67 percent of the females who died by suicide from 2004-2008 were in current treatment for a mental illness at the time of their death.
“As we look at the leading causes of death in our state and the terrible effects of each, we have to remember that suicide is the one of the few that is completely preventable,” said Pam Silberman, the president of the NCIOM. “With changes coming to our state's mental health system, we should seize the opportunity to create a comprehensive plan to prevent suicide and to manage its effects. To save lives, the state must show real leadership on this issue and local providers must be held accountable.”
The task force's recommendations come at a critical juncture as North Carolina transitions its publicly funded mental health system from a loosely organized, fee-for-service system to a more tightly coordinated managed care system. Local management entities (LMEs) and managed care organizations (MCOs) will manage dollars from Medicaid, as well as state and federal block grants for mental health.