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'There's always help for you': Local groups advocate for suicide prevention awareness

Local therapist Jasmine Pope said education is an important step in raising awareness. The Suicide and Crisis Lifeline's phone number is 988.

TOLEDO, Ohio — There is an average of 130 suicides per day in the U.S., according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month and local therapist Jasmine Pope said education is an important step in helping people know taking their life is not the answer.

AJ Burt is forever enshrined in his grandmother's home.

"Ajane 'AJ' Xavier Jamal Burt (was born on) October 14, 1991. He left Feb. 18, 2017," Burt's grandmother and local suicide prevention advocate, Earlean "Queen Cookie" Belcher, said.

Burt took his own life five years ago, and Belcher said she has never been the same.

"I just wanted to do something to honor his life," she said. She started going to a grief support group, as well as a suicide support group.

Now, Belcher advocates because she believes no one should feel that their only option is to end their life.

To raise awareness, local churches are spending the month talking about suicide prevention and mental health.

"For a long time, particularly in the Black church, you couldn't talk about it. Or you were just dealing with a demon. So that kind of took away a lot of the resources that were there," Pope said.

Pope said open discussions regarding suicide are becoming more commonplace, but people still have misconceptions.

"Suicide isn't always just a spiritual thing, it can be because of genetics, life circumstances," Pope said. "And helping people to understand you can put your faith together and you can pray, but you can also talk to a therapist. You can see a psychiatrist and get on medication."

Both Pope and Belcher said people struggling with suicidal thoughts often suffer in silence.

"We don't want anyone to think we're weak, so we keep it inside, but if you tell your story, there's always help for you," Belcher said.

The Suicide and Crisis Lifeline recently changed its number to 988. It is available 24 hours a day.

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