By Bethany BROWN
In recognition of Worldwide Suicide Prevention Day, USC Verdugo Hills Hospital is holding its 7th Annual Suicide Awareness and Prevention Conference on Saturday, Sept. 10 from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. The conference – co-hosted by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention – is free to attend with registration in advance and will take place in the main hospital building, 1812 Verdugo Blvd. There is limited capacity and masks will be required upon entry. It will also be live-streamed virtually for those who cannot attend in-person.
Experts from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Teen Line and Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services Suicide Prevention Center will discuss how to provide support to someone who is suicidal, how to listen so teens will feel comfortable sharing their feelings, coping with suicide in a digital world and facilitating support groups for survivors of suicide attempts, among other topics.
Deborah Weirick – director of Community and Donor Relations – acknowledged that there is much stigma around mental health/suicide and said USC-VHH is committed to making a conscious effort to break down that stigma and ultimately open lines of communication for people so that they can feel comfortable in this community talking about their experiences.
“It’s never a problem to talk about cancer or diabetes, but if someone has a mental health issue or has made a suicide attempt or has died by suicide there’s a lot of shame around [it],” she said. “You don’t see that with other diseases the way you do with mental health. Our goal is to normalize and encourage conversation of the topic.”
According to the CDC, suicide rates have been steadily increasing since 2000, which can be attributed to reasons such as pressures surrounding social media and recently the heightened anxiety and depression associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Suicide remains the 12th leading cause of death in the U.S. overall and the second leading cause of death for 10- to 14-year-olds and 25- to 34-year-olds.
“It is a serious public health issue in our country,” Weirick said. “More people should be talking about it.”
She stressed the hope that attendees will walk away from the conference with more knowledge and confidence in their ability to help others and help themselves. Additionally, she hopes they will gain the tools needed to recognize the signs of distress in those who may be unable or afraid to speak up.
“We’re a healthcare organization and taking care of peoples’ health, both physically and mentally, remains the top priority always,” she added.
Registration for in-person attendance is open until Sept. 7 and registration for the live webinar is open until Sept. 9. Register for either at tinyurl.com/prhpwpsj.