In the middle of National Suicide Prevention Week, the city of Franklin and Find Hope Franklin presented a virtual program Thursday to raise awareness for mental illness red flags, share about mental health resources and spread the message that “no one should suffer alone.”
Franklin Mayor Ken Moore and Franklin Police Chief Deborah Faulkner hosted the program on the city's Facebook page, where they urged the public to familiarize themselves with red flags of depression, anxiety and other emotional suffering.
“There are suicide risk factors, like someone feeling like they don’t belong or feeling like a burden to their friends, isolation and financial struggles and access to means,” Moore said.
Faulkner said compared to other counties in Tennessee, Williamson County has a high suicide rate for children in the age range of 10 to 19.
The program featured three people who have been affected by mental health struggles and suicide.
Jimmy Boehm shared that in 2008, he was going through a divorce, lost his business during the economy crash and turned to drugs because of his suffering.
“I just got to a point where I just gave up, where I just didn’t care anymore,” he said, adding that his friends and church community weren’t there when he needed them, and he felt isolated.
Williamson County Schools student Cole Gershkovich felt similarly isolated as he struggled with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and was kept up at night by debilitating existential thoughts — things his friends didn’t understand or experience in the same way.
Both Boehm and Gershkovich continued to feel alone in their struggles. For Boehm, his mental health declined over a period of two years. Gershkovich began harming himself for months before he tried to take his own life.
“It was a very slow and painful process of just slowly fading away,” Gershkovich said.
One night, Boehm was pulled over by the police while he was driving because he had a suspended license due to an unpaid speeding ticket. He said that news was like “the straw that broke the camel’s back,” and he fled from the police.
He ran, armed with a gun, into a field, believing that would be the last night of his life.
Boehm said he attempted to take his life, but his gun jammed. He unjammed it and hurriedly attempted again; however, the bullet took his sight and put him in critical condition, but he lived.
During his third day in the hospital, Boehm reached a pivotal moment and decided to rebuild his life.
“I said I have two choices — I can either be a bump on a log and feel sorry for myself the rest of my life, or I can … figure out how to face this head-on and get through this,” he said.
After going back to school, Boehm is now a therapist at the Refuge Center for Counseling.
For Gershkovich, that pivotal experience happened directly after his suicide attempt when his friend rode with him to the hospital, showing him that he wasn’t alone.
“I feel like those of us who do struggle often fail to realize that no matter how alone these problems have made us feel, people do care,” he said. “They care more than your anxiety, your depression, your OCD or whatever it is wants you to believe.”
Steve Hinesley shared the story of his son, James, who took his life at the Natchez Trace Bridge during his freshman year of college.
Hinesley said James was a quiet person and a good listener, and his family never noticed any warning signs before he jumped from the bridge.
Hinesley had to learn the signs and educate himself around mental health as he grieved his son’s death.
“What I’ve come to understand through reading and research is that it’s really not the act of a rational mind, and nobody’s really to blame,” he said, adding that he believes a stigma is formed around mental illness because people don't understand it.
Hinesley is now part of the Natchez Trace Bridge Barrier Coalition, which has successfully fought for the installation of barriers on the bridge. As of now, barriers are set to go up late next year.
“You have to look at prevention not just in the early warning signs but also in that impulsive moment — so things like a barricade on a bridge, things like suicide prevention pamphlets in a gun shop — anything to get them to think twice,” he said.
These three witnesses charged the public to know the warning signs.
Gershkovich added that people should know that “all of your feelings are valid, and not all of your thoughts are true.”
“You don’t have to believe everything you think. As someone with OCD, that’s incredibly difficult to accept,” he said. “You are more than what you feel and what you think.”
Amy Alexander, executive director of the Refuge Center for Counseling; Cindy Siler, CEO of Mercy Community Healthcare; Tom Starling, CEO of Mental Health America of the MidSouth; and Sej West, director of Volunteer Behavioral Health Center, spoke about their organizations and the resources available for those affected by mental health struggles.
The Refuge Center offers mental and emotional wellness services to Middle Tennesseans on a sliding pay scale. The organization also offers mental health first aid training for individuals, groups and organizations.
Mercy Community Healthcare, a nonprofit organization, also offers behavioral health services, in addition to other health services regardless of a person’s insurance or ability to pay.
Starling discussed his organization’s history with providing information, brochures, education, advocacy, trainings, referrals and more, and West shared about the 24-hour National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (or 8255).
Moore shared about his Find Hope Franklin project — an online hub of mental health resources compiled in partnership with leaders, citizens and organizations throughout the community.
"There is hope and help available," Faulkner said. "No one should have to suffer alone."
To learn more about local and national mental health resources, visit FindHopeFranklin.com.
If you or someone you know is in danger of suicide or self-harm, call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
To watch the full Find Hope Franklin and city of Franklin program, visit the city of Franklin's Facebook page.