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‘You are not alone, we’re here to help’: St. Louis efforts unite in suicide prevention

From top, Shelby Zurick and Bart Andrews are a part of St. Louis' efforts in suicide prevention.
Alex Heuer | St. Louis Public Radio
From top, Shelby Zurick and Bart Andrews are a part of St. Louis' efforts in suicide prevention.

On average, one person in Missouri dies by suicide every eight hours. According to the Missouri Department of Mental Health, suicide rates are rising nationally, and at an even higher rate in Missouri. While those most at risk are Caucasian men 45 years and older, this phenomenon has a way of touching the lives of people across all demographics.

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, which offers an opportunity to shed light on a dark subject in an effort to reduce stigma and offer resources for support.

While many might assume suicide is a mental health disorder, Dr. Bart Andrews said on Wednesday's St. Louis on the Air that more than 50 percent of suicide crises are of people who do not have a history of mental illness. Instead, Andrews, who is the vice president of telehealth and home/community services at Behavioral Health Response, points to two things that are “almost invariably connected” to these situations: loss and pain.

Andrews joined host Don Marsh for a conversation on suicide-prevention awareness along with Shelby Zurick, program coordinator of Hope After at Provident, as well as Gary Robertson, supervisor of the Crisis Intervention Team for the St. Louis County Police Department.

“The calls for services have definitely increased over the last few years,” Robertson said.

Zurick added her perspective as a former crisis hotline clinician for Provident.

“We really appreciate the CIT [officers] because when we have someone who calls into our crisis line and is in need of our immediate assistance, we always suggest a CIT officer go out and talk with this person because they’re trained to work with someone who’s experiencing some kind of mental health concern,” Zurick said.

As Zurick mentioned the center receives many calls from loved ones as well as those in crisis themselves, Andrews poised some questions that may alert someone of another individual’s poor mental health status: “Does my loved one look like they’re in pain? Does it look like they’re struggling? Does it look like they’re detaching or disengaging?”

Andrews continued by asking people to recognize sudden shifts in mood or behavior, whether that’s from positive to negative, or vice versa.

“I think the biggest message that I like to talk about is we should be asking each other, ‘Are you OK? How are you doing?,’ and being able to have honest conversations about this,” Andrews said.

Amid the conversation, Marsh asked Andrews about his past as a suicide-attempt survivor.

Andrews recalled his own story: “I struggled with really severe addiction and alcoholism … and ran into some legal trouble … for me, I couldn’t find a way to live in the world without using, and using was killing me, and in that moment when I was under arrest, and I couldn’t run anymore, I made a decision to try to kill myself. Fortunately … police officers saved my life.”

He added, “Part of my goal is to tell my story because there’s a lot of us out there.”

Issues of gun safety and hospitalization were also touched on. Listen to the full conversation:

If you or someone you know is in a crisis situation, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255).

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Alex HeuerEvie Hemphill and Caitlin Lally give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Caitlin Lally is thrilled to join St. Louis Public Radio as the summer production intern for "St. Louis on the Air." With a bachelor's degree in journalism from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, Caitlin also freelances for area publications like Sauce Magazine and the Belleville News-Democrat. In her career, she's covered topics such as Trump's travel ban, political protests and community activism. When she's not producing audio segments or transcribing interviews, Caitlin enjoys practicing yoga, seeing live music, and cooking plant-based meals.