The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) is a nation-wide program working to decrease suicide across the United States by 20 percent by the year 2025.
In Lincoln County, just a handful of people represent that national group, and continue to work towards the AFSP’s mission at a local level.
Pam Seng and Reine Knobbe are the two members in the Lincoln County Regional Council.
After the loss of their daughter Emilie to suicide in October of 2016, Seng’s family became involved with the AFSP organization. Her family was connected to the organization for support, and soon after she began volunteering with AFSP “because they just provide so many resources and support and hope” to people in similar situations to her, and to people dealing with suicidal thoughts.
Working together, Knobbe – who has also lost a family member to suicide – and Seng have helped organize local outreach efforts, including the annual Out of the Darkness Walk and the Lincoln County Ride Against Suicide benefit.
“All the money that we raised from our fundraisers stays here in Lincoln County,” Knobbe said.
For the ride, bikers (though cars are welcome too) will travel around to different locations in the area. They’ll stop at places where activities have been set up, all of which are focused around taking care of oneself to promote positive mental health and to learn about the effects of depression and anxiety.
“And even just natural things that we can do to reduce that,” Seng said.
For example, one stop in the past was based all around the helpful effects of essential oils, and another had participants walk through a “grounding” activity used to combat extreme anxiety.
“Exercise – like we did a mini-bicycle ride on the Katy Trail, and hula-hooping,” Seng said. “It’s kind of funny to watch the bikers hula-hoop.”
The idea behind the ride was to reach a different demographic of people than the Out of the Darkness Walk does.
“Each year we’ve had people just tell us how much they’ve learned and how much they’ve taken away, either for themselves, for their children or for a loved one that is struggling with suicidal thoughts or attempts,” Seng said. “So what our goal is, if we could reach one, and change one life, and stop one person for following through, that would be great.”
Having resources and a person to reach out to is “extremely important,” Seng said, both for someone considering self-harm and for folks whose family members have died by suicide.
“Suicide is a completely different thing, so sometimes it’s even hard to participate in regular grief support groups,” Seng said. “I tried that in the beginning, and then I was connected with a support group that’s affiliated with AFSP, and…I don’t really know the right word to say when you’re sitting in a room with other parents that feel and are experiencing the same hurts and questions and guilt. And we help each other through that guilt when a loved one has died by suicide.”
This year will mark the Lincoln County Ride Against Suicide’s third year; it’s tentatively scheduled for June 14, though the rest of the details are still being worked out.
While those things are being finalized, though, the local group has already begun using the spoils from previous fundraising efforts to continue outreach into the community, through a variety of avenues.
“We’ve done fundraisers for a couple years, and now we’re in the part where we’re ready to spend on the community,” Knobbe said. “[With donations from local sponsors], we’ve created baskets for all the school counselors at all the districts in Lincoln County, for the counselors to hand out to their families in need.”
The baskets for school counselor’s was the most recent accomplishment by the group – next on the to-do list is to gather more educational material for local doctors offices and businesses.
“Suicide, it feels almost epidemic, so just having conversations, being able to come up to someone and, if they’re having a rough time, say ‘hey, are you thinking about suicide?’” Knobbe said. “You know how hard it is to nail people down and to ask that question? Nobody wants to talk about it, they don’t want to bring it up.”
Seng said many stories shared by people who’ve lost someone to suicide are that they had no idea their loved one was struggling with depression.
“So again just being that voice of how true and real depression is, that you’re not alone and we’re all here together,” Seng said.