According to Tara Rybka, community health coordinator for Transylvania Public Health, the number one cause of death among Transylvania county residents between the ages of 20 and 39 is suicide. The county’s overall death rate from suicide is 10 points higher than the state rate.
Rybka was speaking last Thursday at TC Strong’s latest meeting and noted that September is National Suicide Prevention Month.
She asked attendees, who were both in person and on Zoom, what their organizations, churches and institutions were doing about suicide awareness and how group members could leverage each other’s efforts to have the greater impact.
TC Strong is an initiative launched a few years ago.
“At its roots, the origins of the Transylvania County Youth Support Collaborative, the 2019 version, were tied to my personal observation that there were a multitude of resources, advocates, organizations, programs and services in Transylvania County striving to support our young people,” said Rik Emaus, TC Strong Coordinator. “As is usually the case in most communities, they weren’t well connected.”
In the fall of 2021, after three county high school student suicides, Emaus said the group made a “determined decision” to focus primarily on supporting youth mental health.
The group is now focused on being a coalition of students, schools, and community leaders, working together to build mental health resilience in young people.
“Youth advocates meet monthly to work together to see if we can scale our impact and effectiveness by working collectively rather than individually,” he said. “Everyone said they thought their primary focus and intent to support our young people would be enhanced by greater connectivity and collaborative infrastructure.”
The group is not a single organization but a network of 160 members.
Three organizations lead the group: The Family Place, Transylvania County Schools and Transylvania Public Health.
Participants represented a range of community groups interested in youth welfare, including: Vaya Health, Smart Start of Transylvania County, CARE Coalition, Transylvania County Library, Crossnore Communities for Children, church leaders and members of the community concerned, among others.
Youth suicide can be analogous to the many tributaries of water, or life’s challenges and stressors, coming together to form a powerful current, Rybka said.
The resilience dam, which holds back the current, can be overwhelmed if it is not strong enough.
“We can’t always eliminate tributaries — those stressors — but we can help build their dams higher,” she said.
People can help each other every day, she added, and it doesn’t have to be professionally trained mental health professionals.
Together, the group discussed focusing on a specific topic each month to strengthen individual efforts and increase efficiency.
October will focus on bullying and November will focus on the theme “from grief to gratitude”.
“Our community has yet to have a collective healing stage,” Emaus said, of the three suicides that occurred in the past year.
The initiative aims to raise awareness of mental health topics, provide skills training to improve mental and emotional well-being and address mental health issues, strengthen student connections with caring adults, and facilitate referrals for mental and behavioral health treatment.
TC Strong meets monthly on the second Thursday at noon.
Interested community members are encouraged to attend these meetings and get involved.
The meeting location and Zoom links can be found by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or visiting www.wearetcstrong.org. The county’s most recent Community Health Assessment for 2021, among other data, is available at www.transylvaniahealth.org/data.