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Fighting the stigma
Bluefield Daily Telegraph - 2/12/2020
Feb. 12--BLUEFIELD -- Bluefield State College is making strides in mental health awareness in the community with the Big Blue Suicide Prevention and Awareness Club.
The club was founded in the fall of 2017 to give students who had experienced a loss, due to suicide, or students who were experiencing mental health problems themselves. The club was also founded to reduce the stigma around mental health.
"We started it because a lot of people have mental health issues and suicide is a topic that people don't talk about and it does happen," Patricia Bailey, alumni of Bluefield State College and previous President of the club said. "Mercer County is one of the top ten counties in the state of West Virginia in suicide deaths. McDowell County is number one in the state."
The issue of mental health is not drawn along state lines. In Virginia, suicide is the third leading cause of death in people from 10 to 24 years old, according to Virginia Platforms.
"There are a lot of people that need support that has had that happen to them and also deal with thoughts of death themselves," Bailey said. "It was founded as a student-run organization and we had two advisors, Katherine Harrison and Dr. Rodney Montague. They were wanting to add support and we offered more than just support for people that have lost someone to suicide, we try to offer mental health support too, making mental health literacy more available to students."
The student-run organization has branched out into the community of Bluefield since its founding. Bailey calls the clubs founders, the "founding mothers." They are Brittany Antoine and Brandi Fain.
"They are the founding mothers. It was both of them who wanted to make sure they had a student-run organization here and it is not my story to tell, but their lives were touched by suicide loss," Bailey said. "They were motivated by that. They were such movers and shakers on the campus anyway so they decided to start this up."
Club members want it to be a safe place for people to find resources. They've included veterans in their outreach because of the mental health risk among that population. At events, the group will hand out information, refreshments and gun locks for veterans.
"We have expanded out," Bailey said. "We participated in the Out of the Darkness Walk, which has been a big one for our club and we have done things for veterans. We have gone to different counties and set up mental health literacy resources in McDowell County and Mercer County."
The club has meetings twice a month to discuss upcoming events and any problems the members may be experiencing.
"We have our agendas at the meeting," Bailey said. "Near the end of meetings, I always tell people that if they need help, get help, find your person, make sure you are safe. Know who your people are and know that you are supported."
With its community outreach objective, the club has started broadcasting their meetings on Facebook so that anyone can tune in and get help. The group currently has 68 online members. "It is a way to connect and being able to have all of us together at one time because everyone is so busy," Bailey said.
"We are out there in the community. It does seem like it has reduced some of the stigmas surrounding mental health," Bailey said. "Actually, it has brought out some people that may not have said something before and it will get them talking."
If someone reaches out to a club member or leader about counseling, they will provide that information and if they want, someone will go with them as support. Bailey is currently pursuing her Master's Degree in Counseling but wants the members of the club to know that they should seek professional help if they feel they need it.
"We make sure to let them know that we are not counselors, we are not there to counsel them," Bailey said. "We are there to support them, to let them know that if they needed someone to go somewhere with them that we will do that. We want to make sure they are okay, to check on them, things like that, things that we can do."
The club is a support system for its members and the community. Bailey told the story of one of the members winning an award and the club celebrated her at the following meeting for her accomplishment.
"I have actually had one club member tell me that he is happy we are here because we are like a family to him," Bailey said. "He is one of the ones that I put my care around and try to do different things like that. You have some of them that are away from home, their family dynamic might not be so good."
More than anything, Bailey wants the Big Blue Suicide Prevention and Awareness Club to be a resource for the students of Bluefield State College and the community of Bluefield.
"Being able to have somebody, having a voice, I always try to emphasize to everyone to have their person, have your resources," Bailey said. "We are here, we care about you, if you need help we will go with you to get help. We understand what you are going through."
The club is always recruiting and Bailey encourages people to find them on Facebook under the name, Big Blue Suicide Prevention and Awareness Club. Anyone interested in participating can also email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
-- Contact Emily Rice at firstname.lastname@example.org
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