The Forsyth County Mental Health & Wellness Coalition History
The first Suicide Awareness Summit was held in Forsyth County on September 20, 2017.
“Tonight, we want to talk about the subject others won’t talk about,” Forsyth County Commissioner Cindy Mills said as she welcomed a crowd of about 250 residents. “We want to recognize that we have had 24 very precious people decide to end their life in Forsyth County since January. Just two weeks ago I wrote that there had been 22 people who took their life; now the number has changed to 24.”
The Forsyth Conference Center at Lanier Technical College was the place where FOX 5 anchor Katie Beasley, moderated the conversation. Katie had lost her brother, Davis to suicide in 2016. Katie’s father addressed the audience to talk about his precious son. Davis had suffered from drug addiction, depression and what they believed to be an undiagnosed mental illness, an all too familiar story. Beasley facilitated a discussion with two young women who, too had lost loved ones to suicide. The first young woman told how her husband had served in Iraq and Afghanistan with the Marine Corps and had suffered a traumatic brain injury. The second young woman had also lost her husband in June in what began as a hidden drug issue felt he could not end. A young sixth grader told everyone about her schizoaffective disorder and wanting to self-harm, highlighting the lack of resources for children under 13. Roland Behm with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reminded the audience that “It doesn’t happen to a single individual; it happens to families, it happens to communities, it happens to church families, it happens all around the state and all around this country.” Then District 27 State Senator, Michael Williams shared the story of his father’s suicide when he was 14 years old and how it had affected his life. Commissioner Mills announced there would be future summits. She also said Forsyth County is often ranked the healthiest and wealthiest in the state, but that doesn’t always guarantee happiness. What brought us together was the stigma that comes with the action of suicide, but what we left with was hope that by working together and sharing experiences and knowledge, we could maybe save lives.
Establishing the Mental Health & Wellness Coalition
The organizers of the first summit, led by Commissioner Mills were the impetus to keep the conversation alive. The first meeting of the coalition was on Tuesday, February 20, 2018. Approximately 20 members of the community representing organizations such as NAMI, About Face-USA (veterans group), Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Forsyth County Sheriff’s office, Northside Hospital, Forsyth County Schools, the LRJ Foundation and United Way of Forsyth County as well as interested citizens met for the first meeting. We had updates from the Sheriff’s Office and Forsyth County Schools. We talked about the reasons for forming the coalition, how often we should meet, and what the next summit should be about. Most importantly, what else we could do to make a positive impact in our community regarding Mental Health.
Throughout 2018, there were 4 more regular meetings as well as summit planning meetings. The coalition welcomed new organizations regularly. There were great conversations and information sharing amongst the attendees. There were meetings where coalition members examined the gaps in services and explored how to fill those gaps. Conversations were had about Forsyth County growing more diverse and how to address different cultures. Before the August meeting, there had been a murder/suicide of an Asian father and young child. Could we have done anything differently?
The theme for the next summit held on September 10, 2018 was “Be the Change; #SuicidePrevention. There were numerous vendors in attendance again with networking beginning at 5:30pm. A PSA from the Georgia Bureau of Investigation was on-screen. Commissioner Mills welcomed everyone at 6:00pm. Mr. Tisdale Walker from the Department of Behavioral Health & Developmental Disabilities gave us the latest trends in suicide in Georgia. He gave us insight on initiatives and community collaborations happening across the state in suicide prevention resources and programs. Following Mr. Walker was a panel discussion including the graduation coach from Denmark High School, a Doctor from a Wellspring Counseling Center, a physician for Lanier Family Healthcare and the mother of a daughter who had successfully completed treatment. The next speaker talked about interactive programs happening in schools and community on mental wellness and suicide prevention. The Forsyth County School System gave a presentation on new programs around mental health taking place in the schools. The Whisper Movement was introduced as a campaign at Lambert High School to encourage connection and building strong relationships amongst students.
During the October 2018 meeting, there were two presentations given; the first by Terry Hawkins, Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office CIT Coordinator (The Crisis Intervention Team). He spoke about how they are equipping law enforcement to respond to a mental health crisis. The second presentation was by Melissa Cammack and Judge Abernathy-Maddox from CARE COURT. CARE (Change, Assist, Restore, Enlighten) Court is a 24-month program for those who have been accused of a crime. The Solicitor or D.A. must approve entry into the program. The first task is to help stabilize the client. Most of the participants have a dual diagnosis. The goals are to reduce recidivism and promote public safety.
Mr. Hawkins explained that CIT was a collaborative effort for law enforcement training. The training teaches them 1) How to recognize signs and symptoms of mental illness and co-occurring disorders, 2) How to de-escalate a situation, and 3) Learn new strategies rather than incarceration. Learn more about community resources. The benefits have better outcomes for affected citizens, reduces the use of force, reduces agency liability, and reduces the burden on the criminal justice system. Suicide intervention is another training that goes beyond the basics of CIT. They get an average of 1.2 calls/day of a suicide attempt or threat of suicide. Deputy self-care is greatly needed.
We closed out the year with the November meeting and presentations from Bob Ellis, Fulton County Commissioner informing us about the Text 4 Help Program which is a nationwide 24-hour text-for-support service for teens in crisis.
Katie Bagosy also introduced us to the Beauties and Boots Military Team and Stonecroft Ministries for those people who have had a spouse complete suicide. Ruthie Brew, the Director of Forsyth County Senior services highlighted the county’s senior programs and information on the senior population and mental health. Seniors are many times socially isolated and lonely and are prone to depression. The CDC reports that the highest rate of suicide is in the 45-64 age bracket.
It has been a goal to meet every month in 2019. The first meeting of 2019 had 27 attendees. Our speaker was Aimee Prange, LCSW. She has been practicing for 25 years working in both the inpatient and outpatient psychiatric settings for children and adolescents specializing in childhood trauma and youthful sex offenders. Currently she holds the role as a Sr. Strategic Planner for Aetna Insurance where she adds value to high level strategic initiatives within the Behavioral Health Division. She is also a certified instructor for Mental Health First Aid and is a crisis counselor for the Crisis Text Line. Aimee’s presentation included an explanation of Mental Health First Aid for different groups; community volunteers, youth groups, First Responders, EMS, Higher Ed, etc.
The speakers for the March meeting were Forsyth County School’s COO, Todd Shirley, School Safety Coordinator Steve Honn, and Student Advocacy Specialist, Page Cash. The School System developed a Forsyth County Safety Task Force which includes the areas of facilities, training and support of students. They hired staff to work with students with a high-risk of self-injury, suicide ideation, or those who may be a threat to others. They have had 361 referrals since implementation for the 2018-2019 school year. Again, in May our school system touched on the programs that are being offered to address, bullying, substance abuse and suicide prevention. They have also formed a community-wide collaborative called “Forsyth County Total Wellness Collaborative”. The vision of the collaborative is to mobilize the community of Forsyth to support the growth and success of all learners to lead a balanced and successful life.
Our most recent meeting held on June 3 was to discuss the topics for the next summit which will be held on September 10, 2019. Our target speakers are Terry Hawkins from the Sheriff’s office, a suicide survivor, and possibly a representative from the nonprofit organization, “The Will to Live.” The topics to be discussed are education, the value of life, and coping skills. The committee is considering break-out groups. They would like to focus on information for vets, youth, first responders, and the LGBTQ community for more specific conversation.
The Forsyth County Mental Health & Wellness Coalition has organized to explore ways to address the needs of Forsyth Countians with mental health issues. We believe by educating the community, giving support to those who need help, giving support to those who give help and protecting the community is the best work we can do.