SIDNEY – Driving through McCartyville, Shelby County Sheriff John Lenhart saw a sign on the property of Lenny and Lou Ann Albers that caught his attention.
“I saw a sign the other day that said ‘Don’t give up’ and ‘We still love you,’” the sheriff said during his weekly interview. “And I think that kind of says it all.”
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in America. The Shelby County Dispatch receives approximately 75 calls a year in regards to attempted suicides, and on average four people die of suicide each year in the county.
“We’ve had a number of suicides and attempted suicides in our county, and a lot of times it’s young folks, all ages certainly,” Lenhart said. “But it’s such a waste of human beings for whatever reason.”
Last year 47,000 people killed themselves in the United States, an average of 129 per day. There were 1.4 million suicide attempts. Suicides have gone up since 2000, and middle-aged white men are the most likely to die of suicide.
“The cliche they always used is it was a permanent solution to a temporary problem, and I think that’s very accurate,” Lenhart said.
While struggles might seem overwhelming in the moment, Lenhart said, individuals can overcome them.
“To you and I it may seem trivial that they’re worried about a breakup, they’re worried about bad grades, they’re worried about being bullied and those kind of things. I know at the time it seems like great stress to them,” he said, adding everyone has tough moments in life.
“We may have a scar or two from that, but when you make the evaluation in our lives today, it really didn’t amount to much.”
Suicide affects numerous people who are left wondering if they could have prevented the tragedy.
“Family, friends community, classmates, neighbors – all these just wondering what’s going on,” Lenhart said. “Not only do the suicides hurt those family members, but there’s also a certain amount of guilt.”
There are warning signs people can watch for including individuals pulling away from family and friends, pulling away from favorite activities, writing about depression and loss, talking about not being around much longer, giving away treasured possessions, changing eating and sleeping habits and starting risky behaviors.
“What we can do is be aware of those kind of things, and what you want to do is confront them, confront them in a manner that is helpful and not judgmental,” Lenhart said. “All these people had bright futures ahead of them, especially the kids we run into that commit or attempt suicide.”
Lenhart said individuals can recognize those who need help by watching and listening to the people around them.
“Urge them to seek help, and that help can be in the form of a psychologist, psychiatrist, could be a minster, could be a close friend,” he said. “Take the extra step, take the extra conversation and see if you can help this person.”
Some people prefer to talk to a non-family member, and local options are available such as Tri-County Board of Recovery and Mental Health Services, which has a crisis hot line available at 800-351-7347.
“They do a fantastic job, and they’re literally just a phone call away,” Lenhart said.
Lenhart also encouraged parents and grandparents to maintain perspective and not overreact to minor infractions.
“Sometimes we’re pretty tough on our kids and grandkids for what looking back are probably pretty minor infractions,” he said. “I urge parents and grandparents, put things in proper perspective.”
Along with the struggles children and teens face, Lenhart said he’s also worried about the stress on farmers caused by economic anxiety.
To combat the feelings of helplessness people face, the Don’t Give Up Signs Movement began in 2017 in Oregon.
“It got so popular out there, it’s just kind of spread by word of mouth,” said Lou Ann Albers, who works as a public health nurse in Logan County.
Albers was introduced to the Don’t Give Up Signs Movement by a grandmother in Logan County whose 12-year-old grandson died of suicide.
The grandmother found the non-profit organization in Oregon, which sells signs, decals, cards, stickers, pins, wristbands and pencils with messages such as “You are worthy of love,” “You matter,” “Don’t give up,” “Your mistakes do not define you” and “You are enough.”
Inspired by the message, Albers bought a dozen signs that arrived last week. She’s placed six of them throughout the Anna community and is working to distribute the others throughout Shelby County.
“I’m glad people are noticing, and I hope more do, and I hope we can get up more signs. It’s an important movement,” Albers said. “The more signs we can get up, the more good they will do, I think.”
Signs have been shipped to all 50 states in the U.S. They’ve also been sent to 26 countries and translated into six languages to spread the positive, supportive messages.
The signs let people know they are loved, Albers said, and can help start conversations.
“So many of those people out there we don’t know their struggles, and sometime even those closest people to them don’t know their struggles,” she said.
While Albers’ family hasn’t been directly affected by suicide, she’s encountered many people who have been affected.
“It is happening more and more,” she said. “These kids, and adults, we’re all facing a lot of stresses in our lives.”
A sign rally is planned Sept. 11 in Logan County, Albers said, and she’d like to do something similar in Shelby County.
“Any way I can help, even strangers,” she said. “Shelby County definitely needs good messages.”
For more information on the Don’t Give Up Signs Movement, visit www.dontgiveupsigns.com or visit its Don’t Give Up Signs Movement page on Facebook.
The Sidney Daily News conducts a weekly interview to update readers with news from the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, 555 Gearhart Road, Sidney.