Local tragedy sirens importance of month

*MEDIA RELEASE – Guest Column*

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE CONTACT: Michael J. YatesWednesday, September 07, 2016 PHONE: (865) 719-7221

Local tragedy sirens importance of month | September is national suicide awareness month

Oak Ridge, TN – It happened again while driving home Tuesday afternoon on Pellissippi Parkway. I was adrift in my thoughts when the news startled me out of autopilot. This type of news always does. I heard the radio broadcaster report University of Tennessee student, Andrew Vermillion, had jumped from the 11th Street pedestrian bridge onto Cumberland Avenue Monday morning. He was 22. The News Sentinel reported on Wednesday that “authorities believe [Andrew] was ‘suffering from depression due to several ongoing personal issues.’”

The all too familiar tidal wave of questions came washing ashore in my head: how does a young person’s inner light become shrouded in darkness; did he seek help; was his anguish hidden to many who knew him; what was missed; did his friends and family have any idea - how tortured with grief they must be; and on and on.

I have worked in the field of human and behavioral health services my entire vocational career, and still, the tide of questions are frequent visitors to my thoughts upon hearing the sad, tragic news of another person lost to suicide and the assured crippling impact upon loved ones, family and friends. It has always been news of the hardest kind.

September is National Suicide Awareness Month. It is a time for us to remember that suicide is 100% preventable, if we know what to look for, if we’re asking the courageous questions of our friends, neighbors, and loved ones, and if we know where to connect people to help.

Fortunately, tides of change are happening as we place greater value and importance in treating mental and physical health equally. It’s been seven years since the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act was signed into law, which requires group health plans to have the same requirements and limits for both mental and physical health treatment. The legislation was a big step forward, but the implementation has been slow, leaving many unable to get treatment.

Despite positive tides of change, the tragic ripples of suicide persist. According to the most recent data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, we know that over 41,000 Americans took their lives in 2013. That makes suicide not only a leading cause of death, but one that also leaves in its wake millions impacted by traumatic grief each year.

Oak Ridge, like many communities across our state, is taking a progressive approach by holding a community forum on suicide prevention on September 23. The event is hosted by Ridgeview Behavioral Health Services. Our hope is that by elevating community literacy around suicide prevention, we can equip people with knowledge and confidence to intervene and connect people with places of hope, healing, and recovery.

I cannot stop the tidal wave of questions that follows the tragic news of suicide, but for Andrew, and for everyone gripped in despair beyond description, communities can join the tide of change that will prevent more suicide deaths. To make this happen, we need to enlist more and more people to be the voice of change and spread the good news that help and hope exist. For National Suicide Prevention Month, help spread the message about the importance of suicide prevention.

To learn more about the Suicide Prevention Community Forum presented by Ridgeview, visit or register at

Michael Yates is Director of Development for Ridgeview
Ridgeview is a private, not for profit community mental health center with offices located in Anderson, Campbell, Morgan, Roane, and Scott counties.