News Article Details

Let's talk: Mental health pro: Open conversations can help prevent suicide

McAlester News-Capital - 9/7/2019

Sep. 7--Suicide is rarely discussed, despite being one of the leading causes of death.

Stats from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show nearly 45,000 Americans died by suicide in 2016; suicide rates increased by 30% from 1999 to 2016; and 54% of people who died by suicide did not have a known mental health condition.

Stacy Williams, the southeast Oklahoma director of children's services for CREOKS Behavioral Health Services, said talking about suicide is one of the first steps to preventing it.

"We tend to think if we don't talk about it, it's not going to happen -- but that's not true," Williams said. "So we need to have more discussions about it and feel comfortable talking about it so we can prevent suicide."

If anyone has an emergency situation or needs to speak with a professional, he or she can call the suicide hotline number any time at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or text "TALK" to 741741. Help is also available at emergency rooms, police stations, churches, the sheriff's department and other law enforcement agencies.

Williams said CREOKS will screen a documentary at 6 p.m. Tuesday -- which is "World Suicide Prevention Day" -- at the McAlester Public Library in the hopes of continuing suicide prevention efforts.

"The S Word" is an hourlong documentary directed by Lisa Klein that opens conversation about suicide with survivors to show how it impacts people.

A previous screening of the documentary brought 200 people to watch at Eastern Oklahoma State College to increase discussion about suicide on campus.

CREOKS Behavioral Health Services provides health, wellness and social services as Oklahoma's largest nonprofit mental health and substance abuse provider with 22 clinics on the eastern half of the state.

The program provides outpatient behavioral health services, in-home and school-based programs through funding from state and federal contracts, and billing of private insurance.

Williams said improving mental health is important in preventing suicide.

"Suicide is sometimes a one-time event and sometimes it's something that kind of builds up," Williams said.

Williams said Oklahoma has the highest rate of adverse childhood experiences in the country -- with those experiences leading children to be more likely to have substance abuse issues and health issues in adulthood.

Those issues can include obesity, heart disease, diabetes, alcoholism, drug abuse and more, but Williams said mental health professionals are trying to change the trend.

"We're looking at it as more of a prevention and looking at how we can build protective factors and support for these kiddos as well as their families so we're not to the point of being ranked seventh in the country for suicide," Williams said.

Williams said several groups work to help provide mental health services across the county with the Pittsburg County Trauma Task Force.

The task force includes members of CREOKS, the Pittsburg County Health Department, Carl Albert Community Mental Health Center, some private mental health providers, the county Youth Shelter, Pittsburg County Court Appointed Special Advocate, Choctaw Nation, McAlester Police Department and more.

"We want to effect change in all of the county," Williams said.

Organizations continue using programs to offer mental health programs and help prevent suicide.

Williams said CREOKS just completed a five-year Garrett Lee Smith grant through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration that provided $30,000 per year for suicide prevention.

"At the beginning of the five-year grant, Pittsburgh County had the highest rate of suicide by double in the state," Williams said. "And after our five years with the grant, we are no longer in the top five -- but we are still high."

The Pittsburg County Local Service Coalition received the grant and it was administered for the first three years by KI BOIS Community Action before CREOKS administered the last two years, she said.

Williams said the grant money went toward buying billboards to post the suicide prevention hotline number, T-shirts at high school games, training sessions, rights to screen "The S Word" and more focusing on suicide prevention.

"Efforts from the grant money really focused on prevention and getting the numbers out there so people know what to do and who to call," Williams said.

Contact Adrian O'Hanlon III at


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