Community task

Tony Watkins, a nationally-recognized suicide prevention trainer, meets with members of Fayetteville’s Community Suicide Prevention Team. The newly-formed group of professionals and community members seeks to reduce Lincoln County’s high rate of suicide.

In 2018, 20 Lincoln Countians – from ages 11 to 81 — ended their own lives. That’s a suicide rate here that’s nearly five times the national average, an epidemic of hopelessness that a group of volunteers is determined to reduce.

“Suicide is the one form of death that we can prevent,” said the Rev. Bruce McVey, pastor of First Presbyterian Church and a member of the newly formed Community Suicide Prevention Team. “That doesn’t mean it’s easy, but other communities with similar problems have seen dramatic reductions.”

Advised by the non-profit SAM Foundation, a group of local counselors, clergy, teachers, medical professionals and people whose families have been affected by suicide are meeting about once a month to define the local problem and to develop and implement a plan to get ahead of it.

Part of prevention is just making sure that people have a way to address the topic, said  Emily Law, a wellness coach who is a retired school counselor.

“It is preventable,” Law said. “We want to educate the public on the signs so they will be equipped to know how to get people help. This is all about education, awareness and also have the openness to talk about it and take away some of the stigma around suicide.”

While the Community Suicide Prevention Team is still in the early phases of developing a long-term plan, Law says that plan will definitely include educational opportunities here. Tony Watkins, an ordained minister who is also a licensed family therapist nationally known for suicide prevention training, is meeting with the team as they develop their plan.

One of the reasons that Carman Smith, who coordinates school health for Lincoln County Schools, is meeting with the group is because the problem of suicide can be daunting, even for professionals.

“We have a lot of things in place in the schools,” Smith said, “but I don’t know what to tell people. In this group, we’re putting it all out there. Each of us is bringing the little bit we know and putting it on the table to see if we can put the puzzle together.”

At this point, that’s the good news, Law said.

“The good news is that there is a grassroots, multi-disciplinary group of professionals and community members trying to come up with solutions,” she added.  

Those interested in helping with the project are invited to contact Bruce McVey at 433-1905 or via email at Particularly needed on the team are people from veteran and LGBTQ groups.

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