Occasionally, a tragedy will occur that rocks an entire community, as happened with the death of 24-year-old Conner McKeeth this summer. Whether or not you know the family involved, it tears at your heart and leaves you with a feeling of wanting to help, but not knowing how. It also can make you take a second look at your own family, searching for warning signs or ways to help your loved ones. In the spirit of National Suicide Prevention Month (September) and in memory of Conner, our desire is to offer hope, resources and raise awareness of a problem many of us may not know exists … and help save lives in the process.
Every May for the past 15 years, golfers have gathered at the Woodmont Country Club for a chance to take a day off work and enjoy a round of golf. While they are having fun, they’re also making a difference for families they don’t know, and likely never will meet.
The annual Johnny Foundation golf tournament has been a labor of love for Wayne and Lisa Leathers, who began the event to pave an easier path for others who experience the same devastation as their family − suicide.
On Aug. 29, 2000, Johnny Leathers ended his life. Three years later, his parents began the Johnny Foundation (www.thejohnnyfoundation.org). Using tournament proceeds, they’ve established a memorial fund at two counseling centers to help families who may not have insurance or otherwise be able to afford counseling.
“I remember 18 years ago, when my son ended his life, we were in uncharted waters. I knew we needed help, but I didn’t know where to go to get it. It took five different phone calls to five offices to find a Christian counselor who could help us,” Lisa said. “Each time you call, you have to explain over again. I didn’t want other people to have to go through that.”
The centers where families can receive help are nearby; just call and mention the Johnny Foundation to find how to get help and financial assistance for counseling.
• Paraclete Counseling – Johns Creek.
• Restoration Counseling of Atlanta – Roswell/Woodstock.
The golf tournament has raised $250,000 over the years; this year’s event saw a record turnout of 144 golfers and raised $28,000. Organizers place awareness signs at each hole with statistics, and memorial signs with pictures of people who ended their lives — putting a face with the numbers.
On the west side of the county, The Tavern at Towne Lake in Woodstock hosted an Aug. 6 charity golf tournament that benefitted the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a network of local crisis centers that offers free and confidential emotional support 24/7. https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
Organizer Dan O’Brien gave a personal plea to the players before hitting the links: “If you see a friend or family member in need of help, stop and talk with them, give them encouragement, stick by their side. Time is what you have, and what that person needs.”
The inaugural event was a success, drawing 40 players and raising enough money to send $3,000 to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline and $1,000 to Shepherds Men, which helps veterans with PTSD and suicidal inclinations.
Other organizations in or near Georgia offer resources for families affected by suicide. Lisa recommends the following nonprofits.
• Span GA. Focuses on supporting survivors, but work also includes suicide prevention, intervention and aftercare. www.span-ga.org.
• American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Raises money for research and has a good website with helpful resources. www.afsp.org.
• Lou Ruspi Jr. Foundation. Brings mental health education and wellness to schools, the community and other entities through educational and interactive seminars and resources. www.lrjfoundation.com.
• Talking about suicide or saying they wish they were dead.
• Talking about hopelessness and worthlessness, or having no reason to live.
• Suddenly being happier and calmer, or impulsivity.
• Making unusual visits or calling people one cares about.
• Making arrangements, putting their affairs in order.
• Giving things away.
• Looking for a way to kill themselves, such as hoarding medicine or buying a gun.
• Feeling trapped, desperate, humiliated, or needing to escape from an intolerable situation.
• Having the feeling of being a burden to others.
• Becoming socially isolated and withdrawn from friends, family and others.
• Showing rage, or talking about seeking revenge for being victimized or rejected, whether or not the situations the person describes seem real.
• Mental disorders; in particular, depression or bipolar (manic-depressive) disorder, schizophrenia, borderline or antisocial personality disorder, psychotic disorders; psychotic symptoms in the context of any disorder, anxiety disorders, and/or conduct disorder (in youth).
• Alcohol or substance abuse or dependence.
• Previous suicide attempt.
• Family history of attempted or completed suicide.
• Serious medical condition and/or pain.
Who to Call
Emergency Rescue: 911
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
GA Crisis & Access Line: 1-800-715-4225
Teen Hotline: 1-800-442-HOPE (4225)