HALEYVILLE - A mother who lost a daughter and another lady who lost her closest friend--each to suicide--united to provide a heartfelt but stirring message to Haleyville Middle School students on Monday, Sept. 11.
Hilda Smith met Meesa Emmett, Alabama area director of the Alabama Foundation of Suicide Prevention, Birmingham, through Smith’s grandson after her daughter Gina Sims committed suicide 15 years ago.
Smith learned from Emmett that more involvement in suicide prevention was desperately needed in north Alabama, so the two created a program the bring to students and other groups throughout the state.
Their message is simple yet effective, warning students that suicide is the third leading cause of death for people ages 10-24 in the United States and that one in every four persons will be directly affected by suicide.
“It’s happening younger and younger,” Smith stressed. “We’ve got to be alert. We’ve got to be aware of these things.”
Suicide can happen at any age and for a variety of reasons. Smith’s daughter took her own life at age 36, she said.
“She suffered from clinical depression,” Smith noted. “She was bubbly, always laughing, smiling to the public.”
That was on the outside. On the inside, Sims felt like she was “trapped in a black hole and cannot climb out,” as she once told her mother.
Since her daughter was outwardly always personable and outgoing, Smith did not see the warning signs that led to her daughter’s death, she said.
“I’m a nurse of 35 plus years. I did not pick up on it,” Smith noted. “If I would have had the education that you guys are getting now (at the HMS program), maybe I could have.”
Above everything, Smith wants students to know they don’t have to hold inside, and feel trapped by, their emotions and that there is always someone to turn to for help, whether it’s a peer, teacher, parent, administrator or counselor.
The program, “It’s Real: Teens and Mental Health for Middle School Students,” was designed for students in their early teen years and encourages them to reach out to others if they are struggling with feelings that may lead them to consider taking their own life, officials said. The goal is for students to treat their mental health the same as their physical health, Emmett added.
Smith said we need to be able to spot signs that someone might be suicidal. “Are they getting rid of their stuff? My daughter started giving her jewelry away,” she added.
“The younger they are, the less they understand that (suicide) is forever. It’s the finale,” Smith said. “If you do it, you are not coming back.”
For every person that commits suicide, there are 119 people who grieve their death, Smith continued.
“It is up to us to stop that,” she emphasized, just before the program started.
As students in grades 6-8 gathered in the gymnasium, Emmett said her involvement in suicide prevention was motivated by the death of her closest friend Alex in 2013. Emmett also did not recognize the warning signs, she said.
“Suicide is the only preventable leading cause of death that exists,” she noted.
“It is amazing that this district and the school are so open to having this conversation,” she added. “This (program) will go a long way in keeping students safe and educating them on how to keep those around them safe as well.”
In addition to the national 988 suicide and crisis lifeline, anyone who has suicidal thoughts or knows someone who does can call Crisis Services of North Alabama at 1-800-691-8426 or (256) 716-1000.
See complete story in the Northwest Alabamian.