In 2008, Amanda Blue’s life was touched by tragedy.
Her husband, who’d recently experienced some health issues, but who otherwise was not exhibiting any outward signs, took his own life. Four years later, in 2012, her life was touched by tragedy again, when her son, just two weeks shy of his 15th birthday, and struggling with his father’s death, also died by suicide.
Those twin, life-changing losses now see Blue, of Chester County, working to prevent such losses in the lives of others. She currently serves as the chairperson of Chester County’s Suicide Prevention Task Force and the administrator of the county’s Mental Health First Aid program.
“We can’t always know how difficult life is for someone else,” Blue said Tuesday, as she joined senior Wolf administration officials for a ceremony in the state Capitol Rotunda marking September as Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.
Every year, about 1.2 million adults attempt suicide nationwide, with more than 85 percent saying they’d made a plan prior to that attempt, the administration said in a statement. In 2020, the most recent year for which data were available, about 1,700 people died by suicide statewide, the administration said.
The officials who spoke Tuesday spanned state government, from the Department of Agriculture to the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. Each stressed that suicide does not discriminate, and that everyone, from farmers and soldiers to students and the aged, is vulnerable.
“Together, we have the power to raise awareness, share ideas, and ultimately, save lives,” Pennsylvania Adjutant Gen. Mark Schindler said, noting that 20 veterans die by suicide nationwide every day. ” … I’d encourage everyone here to reach out to a veteran, to a family member, or a friend to remind them how much you care.”
Tuesday’s speakers urged people struggling with mental health issues, or those who might be considering suicide, to reach out to agencies across state government if they need help.
New mothers, for instance, can call or text 1-833-9-HELP4MOMS, if they find themselves dealing with mental health challenges, acting state Health Secretary/Physician General Dr. Denise Johnson said.
“Mothers are just one call or text away from help to work through their mental health and the range of emotions that come with motherhood,” Johnson said.
Acting state Education Secretary Eric Hagarty, who said he attempted suicide, as a youth, urged the commonwealth’s students to reach out if they need help. Last year, 20 percent of the state’s K-12 students said they’d considered suicide, Hagarty said.
“In my role, I travel to schools across our commonwealth and interact with learners of all ages, who come from all walks of life. Each of these students has their own unique circumstances, perspectives, strengths, passions, and challenges. But one thing they all have in common is they have a bright future,” Hagarty said in a statement. “They have potential and promise. This Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, we are committed to keeping Pennsylvania students safe, happy, and well.”
“So many Pennsylvanians of all ages, backgrounds, and identities live with mental health issues or experience times of personal crisis that leave them feeling isolated, alone, and hesitant to seek help for a variety of reasons. These are real people – our friends, neighbors, acquaintances and ourselves,” Kristen Houser, the deputy secretary for mental health and substance abuse services at the state Department of Human Services, said.
“We’re here today to tell you that you are not alone, and no matter what it is you are facing, your experiences are valid, and you do not have to carry the weight of these situations by yourself. Free, caring, and confidential help is available, and using these resources can save lives,” Houser said.
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