Ozark Center holds memorial boat launch, suicide prevention training

Ozark Center asks residents to "be someone's lifeboat" for World Suicide Prevention Day.

JOPLIN, Mo. – 41 sailboats for 41 lives lost.

“That’s 41 too many because that left holes in families lives,” says Debbie Fitzgerald, Director of Crisis Services at Ozark Center.

That’s how many people committed suicide in Barton, Jasper, Newton, and McDonald Counties in 2018. A number that decreased from the year before, when there were 54 suicides, but officials at the Ozark Center say it’s still too many.

The center launched 41 sailboats into the pond at the center, to memorialize those lives lost.

“We want to honor those lives because suicide is preventable,” says Fitzgerald. “It’s one of the top ten leading causes of death, but it’s the most preventable leading cause of death.”

This years World Suicide Prevention Day came at a time when everyone is facing some form of added stress because of the pandemic, which can take a toll on mental health especially if someone was already struggling.

“We’re seeing about 20 to 31 people present without an appointment every day. And crisis services, that is also free and 24 hours a day and people can just call and walk in, we’re also seeing increases there,” says Fitzgerald. “When you’re really worried about food and feeding your children, and if you got laid off. And you go back to work and you rely on tips, some of those things can be really hard to navigate. There’s no person in our community that has not been impacted somehow by the pandemic.”

So the Ozark Center is working to educate people on how to help someone who may be contemplating or thinking about suicide. They held a suicide prevention training, but this year it was held virtually — another effect of the pandemic.

“A suicide crisis lasts about a period of three weeks from start to finish. You can see where they’re stable, then they have that initial hazard. Debbie and I refer to this as kind of like a storm. I think of a hurricane,” said Crisis Services Counselor Stephen McCullough during the training.

Participants learned the warning signs of suicide, how to ask someone questions when they may be having suicidal thoughts, and when to refer them to professional help.

“Their life is just going to be great all of a sudden, just because they get a little bit of help,” says McCullough.

“You don’t have to be a professional. In fact, most people can recover without professional help. But there are some that need it and deserve it and we want to be there for them,” says Fitzgerald. “You can be a lifeboat for anyone.”

In 2018, the death rate in Missouri was 20.1 percent according to the American Association of Suicidology. That makes (at least in 2018) the state the 12th highest in the nation.

The Ozark Center will be posting the virtual training video to their Facebook page on Friday, September 11th.