By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
When Amaii Collins was in high school, she didn’t feel well. She didn’t know what was wrong, or how to approach the subject.
“I didn’t know what it was like to be happy in my own skin,” she said. “Or walk into a building and not feel like everyone was talking about me or in a negative way. I think the biggest problem was that I didn’t have to share my emotions.
After a suicide attempt, Collins made the effort to work toward recovery. These days, Collins, 19, works for Running Rebels. She uses her experience to educate young people about suicide attempts, while encouraging everyone to talk about their feelings.
Collins shared her story during a community health and healing press conference at Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers, 1635 W. National Ave., on Wednesday, March 30.
Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley, along with other local leaders, addressed the concerning suicide rate in Milwaukee County and discussed resources available for those in need.
“It’s a tough question for all of us to address,” Crowley said, noting that since 2009, Milwaukee County’s suicide rate has increased although the national rate has decreased.
In 2019 Milwaukee County had 115 suicide deaths, in 2020 it was 126 and in 2021 it was 129, Crowley said. He pointed out that there had been a worrying increase this year with a 20% increase in suicide deaths in January and February compared to the same period last year.
“We know suicide is preventable,” Crowley said. “We all need to understand that even one death by suicide is one for many. Today we are here to raise awareness of the resources in our own backyard. »
One of these mental health clinics is the Access Clinic located in the Sixteenth Street Community Health Center on National Avenue, which offers behavioral health services, mental health and addictions assessment , referrals to outpatient clinics and more. The Access Clinic provides culturally appropriate health care services to uninsured residents, Crowley said.
Arnitta Holliman is director of the City of Milwaukee’s Office of Violence Prevention.
“We understand the seriousness of suicide and the impact it has on individuals and families,” she said, noting that two-thirds of all suicides are committed by firearm. “We center healing in all of our violence prevention work.
The clinic’s culturally competent and accessible resources are important, she says. Holliman’s presence at the press conference was a show of support for the clinic and the county’s efforts.
“We are here to let you know there is hope,” she said. “If you are contemplating suicide or have lost a loved one to suicide, it is important to know that there is hope and there is also support.”
Dr. Maria Perez, vice president of behavioral health at Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers, also spoke at the press conference. It is a serious but preventable public health problem, she said.
“There’s no doubt about the link between mental health and someone who commits suicide,” Perez said. “And while many factors can increase the risk of suicide, people with substance use disorders are particularly vulnerable.”
She added that the loss and isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted people’s mental health, especially among young people. Mental health issues are also increasing within the Hispanic and Latinx community, she said, noting that there is mental health stigma in the Hispanic and Latinx community.
The clinic improves access to care and prevents anyone from suffering in silence, Perez said. Valuable education and resources as well as treatment are available.
Ray Mendoza is a violence interrupter supervisor for 414Life. He spoke about the mental health stigma among black and brown families and noted that change can start with the male characters.
“It’s OK to ask for help, it’s OK to show emotion, it’s OK to say you’re in pain, it’s OK to say you’re not feeling well, it’s OK to it’s OK to say you need help,” Mendoza said. “It’s okay. That’s no problem. You’re no less of a man, you’re no less of an individual. You’re someone who needs help.
Talking about the problem creates awareness. Mendoza said he learned through his own experiences the value of speaking up and talking to someone. The hardest part is accepting that there is a problem.
“We need to de-stigmatize the thought of therapy,” he said. “We have to find the strength within ourselves, as individuals, as men of color, as Latinos and as black men, we have to find the strength within ourselves to deal with our problems so that we can help our families deal with their problems. ”
Mary Neubauer, who sits on the Milwaukee County Board of Mental Health, shared that when she was 11, she attempted suicide. She survived but kept the attempt a secret until 2011, when she shared it with her father shortly before his death.
After being diagnosed with chronic heart disease in 2017, Neubauer looked at his own mortality. Her journey has made her realize the value of her life and what she has to offer herself and her community.
“Suicide is a devastating situation,” she said. “I have lost several friends who committed suicide. As a member of the Milwaukee County Mental Health Council, we have the ability to fund programs. »
Andrea Nauer-Waldschmidt is the Psychiatric Services Coordinator for Milwaukee County Behavioral Services and co-chair of Prevent Suicide of Greater Milwaukee, a coalition that advocates for suicide prevention.
“We know there are many factors and reasons why individuals have suicidal thoughts,” she said. “There is help and there is hope. If someone in your village needs help, listen first. If someone talks about suicide, take it seriously.
Nauer-Waldschmidt urged people to educate themselves on available resources and support. Gun locks and medical destruction bags can increase security, she said.
In addition to the resources available at various clinics and the Coalition, Milwaukee County also has a 24/7 Crisis Hotline which can be contacted at 414-257-7222 . To reach the hotline by SMS, text “HELLO” to 741-741.