Walk Bes;de Me: Local group aims to break stigma of mental health illness
SIKESTON — Nobody’s alone; there is somebody who will walk beside you.
That’s the message the newly organized group, Walk Bes;de Me, wants people to know.
“It’s OK to feel down,” said McLane Barber of Sikeston, who helped start the group in July. “Everybody has moments of depression and feelings of hopelessness, and there are people there who love and will walk with them.”
Comprised of a group of local individuals made up of mental health professionals, law enforcement, clergy, teachers, concerned parents and individuals who have been affected by suicide, Walk Bes;de Me, aims to break the stigma against mental health illness, educate others about the resources available in their communities and offer prevention awareness and crisis support to those in need.
“The semicolon represents the fact that your story isn’t over. It doesn’t end,” Barber said, referring to the semicolon replacing the letter “i” in the word “beside” of the group’s name.
“With the recent increase (of suicides) in our small town, we saw a need and wanted to do something to help,” Barber said of the group’s origin.
One of the ways the group is helping is reaching out to youth as 1 in 5 children ages 13-18 have or will have a serious mental illness, according to educational materials provided by Walk Bes;de Me. A person dies by suicide about every 12.8 minutes in the United States, and suicide is the third leading cause of death in youth ages 10-24.
So as their new school year began, over 2,000 students in grades 5-12 in Sikeston R-6, Scott County Central and The Christian Academy in Sikeston received a “Walk Bes;de Me” bracelet to wear as a reminder that help is only a text away and that their story isn’t over. On the bracelet is a national text line they can use if they need to talk to someone. They text “hello” to *741741, and a crisis counselor will be waiting to help regarding issues such as bullying, depression, suicide ideation, isolation, afraid to go to school, eating disorders and more.
“We want to raise awareness and let people know support is available,” said Walk Bes;de Me member Sylvia Bailey of Sikeston.
With September being Suicide Prevention Month, the group has organized extra efforts to make a difference by changing the conversation about mental health and putting a stop to suicides.
Among awareness efforts include “Painting the Town Yellow” with a goal to place yellow bows in front of participating businesses in the Sikeston area. Members of Walk Bes;de Me will hand out yellow awareness bracelets and cups of lemonade Sept. 28 at Sikeston High School’s homecoming tailgate and they will be in the American Legion Cotton Carnival Parade on Sept. 29.
Taryn Lovett, clinical director for Bootheel Counseling Services in Sikeston, said the need for a group like Walk Bes;de Me in the community is great.
“We have been hearing all the time about suicides in our area, in the state and the country. It’s really something we need to be focused on more,” Lovett said.
Among those involved in the group of concerned citizens are people who have experienced the loss of someone to suicide, Lovett said.
“I think that’s what makes it so impactful, and people are needing this right now,” Lovett said. “They want to do something and are searching for what can we do, and they’re really looking at all aspects: how do we help prevent suicides; how do we get people to the service they need if they’re struggling; and how do we help support those who have lost someone.”
The group has experienced a lot of momentum with it in such a short time, Lovett said.
According to Barber, the group had its first meeting July 13 and immediately began planning events and their needs. Representatives of different mental health providers came together in one place, and they provided input and discussed their services offered, she said.
“All of the organizations had the same vision in mind,” she said.
Barber said the information has been eye-opening.
“I had no idea there was a crisis text line you can contact for help,” she said.
While suicide prevention awareness is taking place all month long, this week is designated Suicide Prevention Week. Bootheel Counseling Services offered a free mental health first aid training, open to the public, on Tuesday in Sikeston.
Lovett said mental health first aid trainings are also offered throughout the year. She said just talking to someone in their time of need can often help.
“We talk a lot about how we can help people if they’re feeling depressed or at-risk, and I think individuals have trouble starting a conversation and reaching out and helping them,” Lovett said. “Don’t be afraid to have that conversation. If you notice someone is down or not acting like themselves, it’s ok to start that conversation.”
Lovett said an example conversation starter could be: “Hey, you don’t seem yourself today. Is everything OK?”
“Now the person may not go into anything, but at that point that helps them know that someone does care and is noticing,” she said. “If they notice the person still seems down, they could make another comment to provide a supportive message to them.”
Walk Bes;de Me meets the fourth Thursday of the month at Cheers in Sikeston.
“I’m really glad we are a part of it, and there are a lot of community members involved,” Lovett said. “It’s a wonderful effort.”
To learn more, visit the public Facebook group page: “Walk Bes;de Me.”