TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTWO/WAWV) — Suicide is the second-leading cause of death in Indiana. It’s also the most preventable, insists Christina Crist, executive director of Team of Mercy, a nonprofit group that ministers to those who have lost loved ones to suicide and counsels those considering it.
September is Suicide Awareness Month, “This is our month to really bring that awareness home, especially in our local numbers — how many individuals are out there suffering in silence,” Crist said Tuesday.
Team of Mercy’s “main goal is to wrap around the survivor or anyone who his having suicidal ideations to get them the help they need,” Crist said. “We assess where they need us.”
Besides one-on-one counselling, monthly in-person group sessions and weekly Zoom group sessions, the group offers biohazard scene clean-up services and financial support helping pay for funerals — and, really, whatever a survivor needs. “We have relied upon that next survivor coming in and telling us what they need and if we didn’t already have that service, by golly we make it possible to have that service,” Crist said.
“There’s another layer of grief in survivors, knowing their loved ones have made that choice,” she added.
To commemorate Suicide Awareness Month, the group has planned a number of events, most occurring within Suicide Prevention Week, Sept. 7-13.
“It gives me goosebumps just knowing that there are going to be thousands of people shedding light on this,” Crist said. On Sept. 10, Worldwide Suicide Prevention Day, Team of Mercy will hold its fourth annual candlelight vigil at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall. Stand Against Suicide is scheduled for Sept. 11 from 5 to 8 p.m. Supplies to participate such as T-shirts and signs will be available at City Hall; Crist hopes to get enough participants to string along Highway 41 from the Vigo County Courthouse to Walmart South.
That Sept. 11 date — the anniversary of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington — is significant, Crist said, because “in months and years following that event, we lost so many first responders who took their lives because of the trauma they experienced on that day.” Suicide claims the lives of 22 veterans a day nationwide.
Red Room Cakery will host a breakfast Sept. 12 from 9 a.m.-noon; some proceeds will go to Team of Mercy. On Sept. 13 — the seventh anniversary of Crist’s daughter Hannah’s suicide — all proceeds from noon-4 p.m. at Crist’s husband’s Local Boy Produce outlet at 5055 S. Highway 41 will go to Team of Mercy.
Seven years later, Crist still gets choked up discussing Hannah’s death. Hannah didn’t leave a note and appeared fine to her family and her friends. “I firmly believe the stigma of getting help is what really took my daughter’s life,” Crist said. “There’s still such a stigma about talking about mental health.”
Crist got involved with Team of Mercy first as a client — the group left a dragonfly necklace at the funeral home containing her daughter (her thoughts were, “Hannah would wear this — I love it”), and now as a leader of the group.
Anxiety for many has risen in recent months with the COVID-19 pandemic, which has exacerbated suicide numbers throughout the country. In all of 2019, Team of Mercy helped 40 new people in need of support. They’ve helped that many since March. “The effect is going to be more long-term and the long-term effects are going to be even worse,” Crist expects.
Those harboring suicidal thoughts seeking counseling have doubled in number this year, which Crist sees as a positive because it means they won’t likely end up statistics. But, she conceded, suicide “will be around until the end of time.”