Apr. 14—It was an evening for transforming anguish into hope: Team of Mercy's Stand Against Suicide event Tuesday night at Grace Community Church in 12 Points sought to elevate awareness of the scourge of mental illness and suicide and offer encouragement to the passing motorists.
"In our world today, people's mental and emotional health is so stressed, and we want people to know that they don't have to be alone, there are better alternatives to suicide and we can provide that," said Mike Pringle, pastor of the church. "We're here wanting to provide help."
Christina Crist, executive director of Team of Mercy, said, "Our Stand Against Suicide events are to bring the community together, to talk about a hard topic and bring awareness to suicide and to spread love. Most of our signs have a loving message to just get drivers' attentions. Every time that we've had our event — this is the fourth one — we usually get one to three calls that somebody in fact actually had a plan and one of our signs caught their attention."
Most of the signs at the rally included the suicide hotline's phone number (800-273-8255) and recommended those in need texting "HELP" to 741741. Some placards read "You Matter," "You are not alone" and "Suicide Sucks."
Suicide is the 12th leading cause of death in the United States, causing 130 deaths every day. In 2020, there were over a million estimated suicide attempts. Team of Mercy reported on its Facebook page that there have been six suicides in the Wabash Valley this past week.
Suicide remains difficult for many to address because a persisting stigma envelopes the very subject, Crist said. "We at Team of Mercy believe that people find it difficult because there is so much that is unknown about suicide and that's what makes people scared. When you don't know about something, you tend to pretend that it doesn't exist because if we don't look at it, then it's not there. But unfortunately, that is helping kill people."
She added, "We need to make mental health conversations as normal as anything else."
Many participating had lost loved ones to suicide or even struggled with suicide ideation themselves. Pat Moore carried a sign reading "I Miss Him" in honor of her father, who took his life with a gun.
"It's something you never get over," she said. "You wonder why and the questions go unanswered, but you have to find peace. My mother was home when it happened and she was getting ready to cook dinner. He had been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer and he hadn't been himself because they put him on all kinds of medication. My mother finally came to terms and forgave him for what he did."
Moore found peace for herself through prayer and talking to family members. "I just think of the good things" about her father, she said. "One thing I can't get out of my mind is when I drove up there after I got the phone call, the sound of a helicopter. I keep remembering that sound, but he had signed a do-not-resuscitate order so we had to let him go."
Kristy Kingsbury recently moved to Terre Haute but has already attended several Team of Mercy events. She has lost several friends and family members to suicide.
"Death is one of those things where you get used to it and you start living every day, but you never get over it," she said. "You miss them every day."
In participating in Team of Mercy activities, Kingsbury finds solace. "By doing these events, it really helps," she said. "Communicating with other people and just understanding that it's OK not to be OK."
Mark Baker, who has quickly become a 12 Points mainstay, was there with his wife, Tiffany, and their children. As his 4-year-old daughter rummaged through the available signs, he noted with a chuckle, "This one can't pick a sign — she's changed her mind about 15 times already."
Baker himself is a suicide survivor, having lost his father in 2018 to a self-inflicted bullet wound.
"It was a shock," he recalled. "We found out when we were living in Japan, and we had 48 hours of travel time to try to process it. It was the first time I realized that everybody who's traveling through an airport is not traveling for business or for pleasure, some people are actually experiencing the worst day of their life and that happened to be us at that given time.
"I had 20 hours of flights to sit and reflect on it and what I was going through," he continued. "Hitting the ground in Terre Haute, I got slapped in the face with it when you see the reality of it."
He added, "Luckily, we have an organization like Team of Mercy here that has the resources and can help you get through something like that."
Leah Myers was there representing Mental Health America of West Central Indiana, where she serves as director of education. Mental illness runs in her family, she said, "So it's important to me. I want to make sure that anybody who needs help can get it."
Myers said this event was just another invaluable service Team of Mercy was providing (the organization also offers grief counseling and biohazard cleanup resources).
"When people are driving by and they see the signs and how much everyone cares, Team of Mercy is helping to save lives with this event," she said. "I think we need more of this, just standing on a corner holding up a sign saying we care about you — we want you to be here. These events really do make a difference. They really matter."
David Kronke can be reached at 812-231-4232 or at email@example.com.