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Coalition event continues suicide prevention efforts

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A small group of people in Roswell have devoted a large part of their lives to the mission of preventing suicide, what they call the “most preventable cause of death.”

A “Together Our Unity Can Heal” event Saturday afternoon at the Unity Center was the fifth annual event hosted by the Tessa Anderson Suicide Prevention Coalition to share information and increase awareness about the issue, with the goal of preventing another suicide attempt or completion.

“Suicide is 100 percent preventable,” said Nathan Padilla, a licensed social worker who is among the founders of the coalition and the head of Embrace Inc., which oversees the coalition. “But it is a leading cause of death across the country. Unfortunately, New Mexico stays high in that national ranking.”

In 2017, suicide was the ninth leading cause of death in the state, according to an October 2018 New Mexico Department of Health fact sheet. For the age group 10 to 34, it was the second leading cause of death. The fact sheet indicates that the state rate was 50 percent higher than the national rate each year from 2007 to 2016.

Padilla, one of several people to talk during the event, said he frequently counsels people contemplating suicide. According to Padilla and information provided by other sources, suicide is often considered by people dealing with addiction issues, a family history of suicide, mental or physical health problems, loss of relationships, social rejection or financial or legal problems.

“I’ve heard people say, ‘Just because someone said ‘hello,’ I decided not to kill myself — just because someone noticed that I was alive,’” he said.

Several people there, many of them adolescents, talked about the pain they have experienced in their lives that has led them to have difficulty coping at times.

Another person scheduled to speak was Angie Gomez, the new director of the Unity Center and the mother of Tessamarie Anderson, who killed herself Feb. 27, 2014, a couple of months before her 15th birthday.

“I just hope that people hear the words of what we are trying to do and what we are trying to help,” she said. “If we can reach just one person, then our job is done.”

The coalition involves primarily Gomez, Padilla and Jennifer Smith, but other volunteers assist as needed. Over the past years, they have been able to help many parents and youth who are either struggling with suicidal thoughts themselves or are grieving for loved ones. Padilla said he also will help arrange for counseling or other treatment when needed.

Recognizing that the topic is often a difficult one to deal with, they said they tried to make Saturday’s event as enjoyable as possible, with performances by Christian-oriented rappers and singers, a lunch, and a scavenger hunt in which people — who stopped by various booths to obtain suicide prevention and health information — received gifts.

“I work with people all day long and people can be lonely in a house full of people,” Padilla said, “so we really need to make an effort as citizens in our community, as family members, as friends, to just take the time and acknowledge them.”

Two sources of assistance for people dealing with suicidal thoughts are the New Mexico Crisis Line, 1-855-662-7474, and the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.