Mental health leaders say asking ‘how are you’ can save lives

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, call or text 9-8-8, which is the suicide and crisis lifeline.
Published: Sep. 16, 2023 at 10:18 PM CDT
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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) - Mental health advocates urge everyone to sit down with their friends or loved ones who may be struggling with their mental health.

“According to the CDC, almost 50,000 people die by suicide each year,” said Joseph Chiarelli, Winnebago County chairperson. “That is up 40% since the year 2000.”

Exactly five years ago on Saturday, Laura Kane lost her 14-year-old son, Zach, to suicide leading to the creation of Marshmallow’s Hope. Now, she does everything she can to educate others on how they can help save a life.

“We need to normalize that mental health is just as important as physical health,” Kane said.

Marshmallow’s Hope offers services for nine to 26-year-olds to ensure they get the counseling and mental health support they need.

“By not doing that, we’re pushing people into suffering in silence,” Kane said.

Mental health advocates say reaching out to someone who is showing signs such as loss of interest in something they used to love, increased substance abuse or lack of hygiene can help save their life.

“Instilling hope in them, that’s one of the big things that we want to, you know, let them know that they’re not alone, that it’s OK to not be OK,” Kane said.

“Giving them space to go beyond the ‘yeah, I’m fine,’ before you jump right in with ‘oh OK’ maybe sit a few extra moments,” said Mary Earle, Marshmallow’s Hope licensed social worker. “Let them know you’re listening.”

“Be truly invested in the answer they’re going to give you when you say, ‘hey are you really OK’ or ‘hi how are you today,’” said Paula Peters, Marshmallow’s Hope licensed social worker.

Earle says for those going through a tough time, reaching out for help shows how strong they are.

“We all need help with certain things and it’s the strongest thing I think another person can do is acknowledge I need a little help,” she said.

“I want parents and I want people to know this is something that can touch anybody, it doesn’t matter what socioeconomic status you’re in, what race, it can affect anybody and everybody,” Kane said.

At a Marshmallow’s Hope block party Saturday honoring the lives lost to suicide, Chiarelli issued a proclamation declaring September as Suicide Prevention Month in Winnebago County.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, call or text 9-8-8, which is the suicide and crisis lifeline.