The Columbia Jewish Congregation is hosting an Oakland Mills Interfaith Center program on suicide prevention March 19. Titled “Talk Saves Lives,” the event aims to “normalize the discussion around mental illness, so it doesn’t become stigmatized, but something that can be treated and helped,” said CJC’s Rabbi Sonya Starr.
The program, which will be open to all congregants, will be separated between two rooms: one for teens and one for the parents of teens. According to Starr, “all of us need to know the warning signs, and all of us need to be part of the community that prevents suicide in our community.”
The teen session, made up of eighth through 12th graders, will be led by Tammi Ginsberg, president of the Maryland chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, while the parent section will be headed by Kayla Blasher-Burch, Howard County Health Department youth suicide prevention coordinator. Blasher-Burch described the event as an introduction to suicide prevention, one that “covers the general scope of suicide prevention, the research on prevention, and what people can do to identify warning signs and fight suicide.”
According to Blasher-Burch, in Howard County suicide is the leading cause of death for young adults between 15 and 19. Additionally, suicide is also the 10th leading cause of death for the U.S. population as a whole.
“Anyone can be at risk of suicide, because everyone has different risk factors,” said Blasher-Burch, who stressed those factors can be environmental, health-related, or historical. As such, Blasher-Burch is hoping to educate as many community members as possible, because everyone is potentially at risk.
The presentation will focus on warning signs, such as a person’s behavior, how they talk, and their mood, said Blasher-Burch. This includes a person withdrawing from their friends, talking about feeling trapped or like they’re a burden, and increased depression or irritability.
“Jewish tradition had a perspective that suicide is a sin,” said Starr. “However, since then, many rabbis have acknowledged that suicide is no different from any other medical issues, and that we should visit people who are suicidal, we should access all medical opportunities to give someone the care that they need, and if someone dies from an illness we don’t treat them like a leper, just because a mental illness caused them to take their life.”
Resources for people struggling with suicidal thoughts include the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255), the Crisis Text Line (text 741741), and, for Howard County, the Grassroots Crisis Intervention Center (410-531-6677).