Taking place during National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, STHS Behavioral’s Chalk the Walk event brought together community members, organizations, schools and businesses to spread messages of hope and inspiration to Valley residents.
Every 11 minutes, one person dies to suicide in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In honor of those lives lost, community members took a walk of remembrance around South Texas Health System Behavioral as part of the facility’s annual “Chalk the Walk” event, which is held annually in commemoration of National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.
On Saturday, September 9, STHS Behavioral rallied local organizations, schools, businesses, law enforcement agencies and government entities, as well as community members, to “chalk up” the parking lot and driveways of the facility with messages of hope and inspiration for people facing mental health challenges or suicidal thoughts.
The event included remarks from:
- Nicolas Perez-Zepeda, a mental health officer with the Pharr Police Department, who discussed how law enforcement agencies are training officers to better help individuals experiencing a mental health crisis.
- Federico Diaz, a member of the Boys and Girls Club of McAllen, who discussed his group’s Think, Learn and Create Change research project on the impact of loneliness and social isolation on our communities.
- Alicia Rodriguez, a representative from the Hidalgo County Precinct 4 Endowment Community Resource Center, who highlighted the impact of their pre-Chalk the Walk sidewalk art project had on the children who participated at the center.
“It’s our goal to call attention to suicide in our communities, come together as a united community to raise awareness for suicide prevention and, by having open and honest conversations, continue to break down the overall stigma surrounding mental health,” said Jessica Becker, Chief Executive Officer, STHS Behavioral. “While conversations surrounding mental health are becoming more common, there’s still a stigma in the Valley, leading people experiencing mental health issues to feel shame and embarrassment or feel like people aren’t going to believe or understand them. So, we need to keep having those conversations.”
During the program, a 26-second moment of silence was held to bring to life a sobering statistic: Every 26.2 seconds, a person attempts suicide in the U.S., per the CDC. Following the presentation, attendees participated in an 11-minute Walk of Remembrance around the facility.
Spreading Hope and Encouragement
While members of the community covered the main parking lot, roadways and sidewalks at STHS Behavioral with enlightening phrases for those struggling with mental health challenges or suicidal ideation, including “You are worth it,” “You matter, keep going,” and “You add value to the world,” efforts to spread hope and encouragement began earlier in the month.
Prior to the official Chalk the Walk event, several organizations and business from across the Rio Grande Valley and beyond chalked up their own sidewalks with inspirational messages. Photos of their inspirational chalk art were placed along the route of Saturday’s Walk of Remembrance.
The participating organizations included Doctors Hospital of Laredo, El Milagro Clinic, Hope Family Health Center, Mercedes I.S.D., Prominence Health Plan, Region One Education Service Center, South Texas College, South Texas I.S.D. Medical Professions, Texas Regional Bank and Valley Initiative for Development and Advancement.
“It’s truly inspiring to see the response to our Chalk the Walk initiative across the region; the community really stepped up to help spread love and light across the Valley and beyond,” said Tom Castañeda, System Director of Marketing and Public Relations, South Texas Health System. “But that’s not all. People who participated in the Chalk the Walk projects at their own places of business have remarked about the lasting impression their efforts have left on them and their colleagues, calling it a therapeutic experience that opened the doors to conversations about the importance of prioritizing their own mental health.”
Everyone Has a Role in Preventing Suicide
Everyone can play a role in suicide prevention by being there to help support a friend, loved one or coworker, learning the warning signs of suicide and knowing the places where help is available for those struggling.
The factors that contribute to the risk of suicide can vary from mental illness, substance use disorder, low self-esteem, family history of suicide, a prior suicide attempt and other self-harming behaviors, bullying, loss of relationships and financial troubles or job loss.
Though it might not always be obvious when someone is contemplating suicide, there are some warning signs of suicidal thoughts, according to Yvette Bueno, MHA, MSW, QMHP, Director of Clinical Services, STHS Behavioral, including:
- Talking about suicide
- Withdrawn behavior
- Statements of hopelessness, worthlessness and feeling helpless
- Preoccupation with death
- No sense of having a reason to live
- Giving away valued possessions
- Saying their goodbyes
If you suspect a friend or loved one is having suicidal thoughts, there are ways to help, especially if they address what they’re going through with you.
“When it comes to talking about suicide, it’s a big step for that person to talk to you and say, ‘This is how I’m feeling,’” Bueno said, adding that it’s important to not dismiss their feelings. “If they were to be met with judgment or not receive an empathetic, compassionate response from a family member or friend, it just might reinforce negative thoughts about nobody caring about them or that they’re not important.”
Bueno added, “We want to make sure we show them that they do have somebody that cares about them, let them know they are important and offer them the hope and support they need to be able to seek professional help.”
Other ways to help include:
- Offering various kinds of support
- Remaining free of judgment
- Being empathetic
- Not shying away from asking about suicide
- Seeking professional help
How You Can Get Help
Lidia Guerra, a licensed professional counselor in STHS Behavioral’s Assessment and Referral Department, assures the community that they are there to help 24/7. “We are here to serve the patients’ needs with our strong advocates and we also want to make sure they get the treatment they need so they can go on with their lives,” Guerra said. “We have nurses, we have social workers, we have therapists and aside from the intake department, we have psychiatric doctors on call 24/7.”
If you or a loved one is struggling with mental health challenges or suicidal thoughts, help is available 24/7 at STHS Behavioral. For a confidential assessment call 956-388-1300.
If you are experiencing a mental health crisis, call the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.