For about six years, Ginny Hagen, a licensed mental health counselor, has volunteered at Celebration United Methodist Church, offering psychiatric counseling for those who cannot afford it. She asks only for donations to the church.
Several years ago, the church hosted a forum on the opioid crisis. The timing was right. In 2017, there were more than 70,000 drug overdose deaths in the United States, an age-adjusted rate of 21.7 per 100,000 persons, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Among these, 47,600 involved opioids.
Recognizing the need, the church decided its next forum would be about suicide. UF Health Shands Psychiatric Hospital and the wellness team at Celebration UMC are cohosting a Suicide Prevention Forum on March 10 from 6:30-8 p.m. at the church.
A panel of experts in the mental health field will be presenting for the first hour. Then they will answer questions from the audience. Community resource information will be available.
This event is free and open to the public. In an email, Hagen calls the forum “an opportunity to stop the stigma of mental health problems.”
Sponsoring such forums fits nicely with Celebration UMC’s mission statement. The church is “a community of Jesus Christ committed to healing and wholeness.”
Suicide has become an epidemic among people of all ages.
“It’s just such a rampant issue right now,” Hagen said.
Hagen is a licensed mental health counselor at UF Health who has worked in the field for more than 20 years. She sees clients from the university who struggle with mental health issues and suggested the forum topic.
Hosting the forum allowed the Celebration UMC wellness team to connect with other agencies. A representative of the National Alliance on Mental Illness will speak and offer resources. A representative of the Alachua County Crisis Center, which works with the family members of people who have committed suicide, also will speak.
A critical topic of discussion will be the Baker Act, a Florida statute passed in 1971. It allows for judges to commit people who are believed to have psychiatric problems to crisis stabilization units for 72-hour psychiatric evaluations.
UF Health Shands Psychiatric Hospital, a forum co-sponsor, is one such evaluation unit. Shands’ mental health professionals will talk about warning signs and other issues that typically lead to someone who is suicidal being “Baker Acted.”
The goal is to try to take some of the myths and stigma out of mental health and suicide and to help people get access to useful information.
“One of the dilemmas that we have in the mental health community is that there are not enough psychiatrists (medically-trained mental health professionals),” Hagen said.
She added it could take three or four months to get an appointment with a psychiatrist.
“When people are in crisis, the only option they really have is to go to the emergency room and be Baker Acted through the hospital,” she said. “It’s a real dilemma for people to get mental healthcare. On top of that, it’s very expensive.”
--Ed Scott is a freelance writer in Venice.