In early March as I was returning from the mailbox with the usual handful of bills and solicitations, I ruminated a bit on my yesterdays when the mail wasn’t so depressing, back in those pre-email, text and tweet days when people actually wrote letters.
This time, much to my surprise, there was indeed an actual letter, one from one of my readers, Jim Zink, who described himself as a former teacher and postal worker and, now in retirement, a facilitator for a suicide-support group under the auspices of the Mental Health and Recovery Service Board and the Partnership for Violence Free Families serving Allen, Auglaize and Hardin counties.
Jim explained that his organization had compiled a list of community leaders, inviting them to attend a breakfast presentation at The Old Barn to encourage involvement in a program designed to stem the tide of suicides in our area.
My first reaction to winding up on such a list of invitees was incredulity, given the fact that, most days, I have my hands full just leading myself much less a whole community! What’s that line attributed to Groucho Marx when he passed on joining a group? “I don’t want to belong to any club that would have me as a member.”
Nonetheless, recalling a friend’s suicide several months, I emailed Jim and accepted his invitation to be part of the group of invitees.
Recognizing me from my byline photo, Jim approached me as soon as I walked in last Thursday for the event. He talked about his suicide support group, one open to all that meets from 6:30 to 8 p.m. on the second Wednesday of each month in Suite A at 309 W. High St., Lima, across from the post office. Programs on suicide are under the umbrella of the PVFF, along with programs on bullying, gambling addiction, senior-citizen challenges and substance abuse help, many of which have a direct link to suicide.
Jim offered to introduce me to the PVFF director and program’s presenter and brought back someone who really didn’t need introducing. Donna Dickman began by asking me what I remember about my days riding that St. Charles Green Bus No. 1, an experience she also shared, although she had to put that dig in that she was only a kindergartner while I was “considerably older”! Donna and I later collaborated during my Lima Parks and Recreation days when she was the Director of Program Services for the Girl Scouts and my go-to Camp Woodhaven contact to arrange nature days for my playground kiddos.
To begin, Donna wanted us to introduce ourselves. Among the group were funeral directors, a county commissioner, human resource directors and directors of social agencies, a Veterans Administration representative, a former Jefferson Award winner and media members.
My childhood fellow busmate put on a wonderful presentation, and much of what Donna disseminated was impacting. She spoke of the six area 19-year-olds we lost to suicide in 2016, all just beginning college and all with seemingly a world of possibilities ahead of them. However, it became apparent that suicide doesn’t fit neatly into any single demographic, as evidenced by the two area octogenarian suicides just last year.
She went on to say that trends are on the rise nationally, especially among teen-age girls and middle-aged males and, of course, in select groups such as those returning from military deployment. Nationwide, Donna said, suicide is the 10th-leading cause of death and, shockingly, among those between the ages of 10 and 24, it is the second-leading cause of death. Dickman also stressed how so many other programs offered by the PVFF are linked to suicide as well, especially the programs on substance abuse, since 30 percent of suicide victims have been found to have alcohol in their systems.
As for what Donna wanted us to do, well, that came at the end when she said she would like us all to attend an eight-hour training session on learning to recognize and respond to those in emotional and mental crisis on May 21 at the PVFF suite on High Street.
She also said that while this session is targeted for us, there are as many as 30 sessions annually, with many open to all comers. Registering for an open session is as easy as going online at mhfa.care.org or making a phone call to 419-549-8530.
At the end of the meeting, I thanked Donna and told her I’d have to check my work schedule before committing to the May 21 session. However, by the time I got halfway to my car, I realized even if it took some rearranging of my work schedule, I had to take a day off and attend to avoid the taint of hypocrisy. After all, I can hardly encourage your involvement and then abdicate my own responsibility.
So, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., on Monday, May 21, thanks to the impetus provided by a former rider of Green Bus No. 1, I know where I’ll be, to learn what I can so just maybe I can help someone like the friend I lost far too soon.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at email@example.com.