FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — The word “hope” was front and center Sept. 20 as community members, public officials and medical professionals joined for a discussion that may end up saving lives.
The inaugural Forsyth County Suicide Summit, held at the Forsyth Conference Center, united more than 100 people who wanted to discuss the often stigmatized topic.
The event featured mental health professionals, family members of those who’ve taken their own lives and ways for those in distress to get help.
Forsyth County Schools, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and Northside Hospital Forsyth all brought speakers to talk about what resources they offer families and individuals, along with warning signs of depression and how to help.
Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills helped organize the event and said since January, 24 people in the county have committed suicide.
“Wellness cannot always be seen from the outside,” Mills said. “I’m reminded frequently we’re one of the wealthiest counties in the state. But all the money in the world can’t always bring peace of mind or happiness.”
She said the families left behind after suicides are trying to pick up the pieces of their scattered lives, and they need to know it’s acceptable to talk about suicide.
“They aren’t alone,” Mills said. “We are a community that cares. There are people here who understand. If you’re struggling, please know you are loved.”
State Sen. Michael Williams spoke about his own family experience with suicide and mental health. His father suffered from manic depression and bipolar disorder.
Williams said he would come home from elementary school and see his father in the street saying, “life is a joke,” and on other days his father would be in the closet in the fetal position not leaving for several days.
“I remember being 6 years old and spending Christmas at a mental health facility because my father had tried to kill my mom, myself and my siblings,” Williams said. “He was successful in taking his own life when I was 14-years-old.”
Williams came home from a church camp and the family found his father dead, which caused him to feel guilty until years later.
“I wondered if I hadn’t gone to that camp and if my mom had been there to protect him, like she had done many times before,” Williams. “I suffered from grief because my father wasn’t there when I graduated high school, college and got married. I suffered from self-doubt and self-worth living my life that my own father wasn’t a part of.”
He said he now realizes he won’t be a victim of his circumstances and uses that in his everyday life.
Other family members spoke about their loved ones, including David Beasley who lost his son Davis last October.
He said the stigma around suicide is something most people don’t know how to address.
“Most people like to brush it under the rug or keep it very private,” Beasley said. “I get that. However in my case, it’s been a situation I’ve learned firsthand that being able to talk about it publically provides me strength.”
After losing his son, Beasley said his life changed forever and left a void he isn’t sure may ever be filled.
“It was standing room only at his memorial service,” Beasley said. “I only wish Davis had felt and seen what he meant to other people. There was representation from the time he was a young child to the time he took his own life. Let people know how much they mean to you. Don’t wait. Take advantage of the time.”