News Local/State

Spotlight on ‘Rattle The Stars’: Reducing Mental Health Stigma, Preventing Suicide

Kim Bryan and Samual Blissett

Kim Bryan lost her son Samuel Blissett to suicide in April 2016. She now runs a nonprofit organization, Rattle The Stars, with the hopes of preventing teen suicide. Courtesy of Kim Bryan

Suicide rates have risen 30 percent nationwide over the past two decades, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And a recent study found that between 2007 and 2015, the number of U.S. children who were hospitalized for suicidal thoughts and attempts doubled.

Champaign resident Kim Bryan lost her 19-year-old son to suicide in 2016. His death led her to found the nonprofit Rattle The Stars, which provides suicide prevention training across the Champaign-Urbana area.

The training teaches people how to talk to someone who may be at risk, Bryan said. The next training event is at 6 p.m. on May 23 at the Urbana Free Library.

Bryan will also participate in a Facebook Live event with the Youth and Family Peer Support Alliance on Tuesday, May 7.

Bryan spoke with Illinois Public Media about her efforts to raise awareness about teen suicide during children’s mental health awareness month.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

How did your nonprofit “Rattle The Stars” get started?

Like a lot of people who do suicide prevention work, I unfortunately came into this type of work because I lost somebody to suicide. My 19-year-old son died of suicide about three years ago.

And so initially, my daughter wanted to start doing some awareness and information things in her school about youth suicide. But we really quickly realized that just kind of doing awareness wasn't wasn't really going to meet the needs that were out there.

So we started looking at doing education and training and actually providing services to people to help them learn about suicide and how they can intervene and help people who may be having thoughts of suicide.

Your organization provides suicide prevention training for parents, people who work in the schools, faith groups and other community groups. Can you tell me a little bit about your approach to doing this type of training?

Sure. So we have training workshops that we really try to individualize for different groups of people. We want to make sure whatever group that we're presenting to that they're getting the most accurate information, the most useful information for, for what they what they do. And so our workshop we talk about, first of all having an understanding of suicide, why people have thoughts of suicide, why they attempt suicide.

And then we talk about things that you can look for so signs that somebody may be having thoughts of suicide, and really importantly, we talk about what to do in those situations. So how to actually have the conversation about this issue. How do you ask this person in a way that is going to help them feel safe and comfortable talk about it? How do you, you know, respond to them in a way that that helps them feel validated and secure?

And then we talk about resources and supports that are available.

I always recommend people, if you have any kind of contact with youth or young adults, this training is for you, because nationally we know that about one in six have thoughts of suicide and about one in 12 attempt suicide. So every person who has contact with that youth is in a potential position to intervene with them.

Your son Samuel was a 2015 graduate of Centennial High School and that there are some efforts being made at the school to raise awareness about mental health. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

We have a group of students that has an after school club, they meet and they plan different things throughout the year to help, again, just sort of bring awareness and get people in their school talking about it.

Was this prompted by Samuels death?

Yes, this is a group that my oldest daughter started and it's still going after a few years. So that's really positive thing.

The group has done things to recognize trans day visibility; so,getting suicide prevention information out there for our trans youth in the school. They have giveaways at finals times, which is a really stressful time for students.

We try to get information into the students' hands that has, you know, crisis and support information that they can use if they're having a difficult time.

Do you feel that as a society, we're making progress toward reducing the stigma associated with mental illness?

I think we're making progress. I don't think it's happening as quickly as as many would probably hope, or that it's really to where we need to be.

The primary indicator of that is that when we see that the rate of suicide; it's rising, and it has been rising consistently, for about two decades now. And so that in itself tells us that we're not there.

We're not doing enough. People don't feel comfortable, they don't have access to the resources that they need for various reasons, because we're losing more and more people to suicide every year.

I'm just particularly happy to hear about the conversations that are happening in high school because I feel like when I was in high school, I don't remember ever having those types of conversations, which was 20, you know, 20 years ago.

Yeah. I think that there are, there are some really passionate youth in our high schools that they really want this issue to be talked about.

They want to be more open. They want adults and other people in their lives to understand that even though, you know, they're teenagers or they're young adults, they're still going through some very difficult things and they still have stress in their lives.

And it does impact their mental health and their emotional well-being and they really want space to be able to talk about that and find support and understanding.

Anything else that you would like people to know about this issue?

I think it's probably the most important thing for people to know about this is that it is something that it's not a choice. I think a lot of people have the misconception that suicide is a choice. We really try to talk about it in a way for people to understand that this is how this is something that is happening to a person, it's not a choice that they're making as a way to solve their problems, which is the way we hear it portrayed a lot.

But also, asking somebody about suicide is not going to give them the idea. You're not going to put the idea in their head. If they're already thinking about it, then what you're doing is you're really creating that space for them to be able to talk about it and be helpful.

There's a lot of fear that if we ask somebody this question that we're going to give them the idea, and that's just not true.

Follow Christine on Twitter: @CTHerman