SPEAKING OUT: Suicide prevention is group's No. 1 goal

Mar. 8—CAMANCHE — It was nine years ago when Nikki Carber's daughter came home from school one day and told her about another student who'd died by suicide.

Deeply affected by the event, and concerned for other youths, Carber, of Camanche, decided to create a group that could help others before they attempted to take their own life. The local group she created, Speak Out Against Suicide, continues its work to increase awareness about suicide and to reduce the suicide rate.

According to the most recent stats from the Centers for Disease Control, suicide rates increased 30% between 2000 — 2018, and while the rate declined in 2019 and 2020, a total of 45,979 deaths were attributed to suicide in 2020. That means every 11 minutes someone in the U.S. dies by suicide, making it a leading cause of death, the CDC says.

In 2020, suicide was among the top nine leading causes of death for people ages 10-64 and was the second leading cause of death for people ages 10-14 and 25-34, according to CDC data.

The makeup of the Speak Out Against Suicide Board underscores its desire to help youths in the community. Carber is on that board as is Esther Vogel, Margo Bousman, and Barb Linder, all of whom lost children to suicide, and Brian and Trisha MacLennan. Trisha MacLennan has lost seven family members to suicide.

Joining them on the board is Linda Kramer, who lost a good friend, and became the organization's president in January, and Shawn Felts, who became Speak Out Against Suicide's outreach coordinator nine months ago.

Not only does Felts give in-school presentations to students in eighth-grade and older, she regularly visits Hightower Place to offer support. She also gets up in front of other boards and organizations to teach people about signs that may indicate someone needs help, and stresses that it's a topic that's OK to talk about.

"If you can just get me in front of people," Felts says, "it will make a difference."

Speak Out Against Suicide offers in-house, one-on-one support and but also can provide assistance by phone, text or email and leads several in-house support groups. They work to eliminate the stigma and any negative judgment associated with suicide prevention, depression and grief support and do this by providing education to increase awareness and support to those in need, as well as provide further resources.

Speak Out Against Suicide is willing to do whatever it can to help the community. One of the ways the group does that is through its annual suicide awareness gala. This year's is set for Saturday, April 2. Known as "A Night to Remember," the gala will be at the Wild Rose Casino and Resort at 777 Wild Rose Drive in Clinton. There, they will be giving recognition to teachers and the positive impacts they've had on children's lives. The hundreds of tickets for the event were sold out within 45 minutes of becoming available, but there is a waiting list in case anyone would like to sign up.

While the organization has mainly focused on the mental health of youths in the community and surrounding area due to board members' personal experiences and the event that initially inspired Carber to establish Speak Out Against Suicide, the organization's focus has begun to broaden.

The organization has begun reaching out to educators and factories to see what they can do for them. The support they offer isn't only in regard to suicide.

"We're available in every area there is," Kramer says. "All they have to do is ask."

And while Speak Out Against Suicide used to operate out of a room at Hope Haven located within the Gateway Area Community Center, 1850 S. Bluff Blvd., Clinton, the organization recently moved into its new location, 1805 S. Washington Blvd., in Camanche. It celebrated the move with an open house and ribbon-cutting ceremony last month.

The building in Camanche was donated to the organization in 2021 by Kim Stoll, who'd moved her financial services business from there to 2304 N. Washington Blvd. Speak Out Against Suicide board members are greatly appreciative of the donation and are proud of their new space.

To contact Speak Out Against Suicide, call (563) 259-8255 or (563) 321-0592.