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“We care about you” : Dawson County first responders, students bring message of hope to community with campaign for 9-8-8 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline
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DCHS students and staff join first responders and county officials at Tiger Stadium on Nov. 9 to show their support for people struggling or in crisis. Photo by Dep. Matthew Blackstock.

For the past decade, Dawson County has had Georgia’s highest suicide rate at 32 per 100,000 residents, according to statistics from CDC’s Wonder database. Now, the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office and a wide-ranging group of locals have teamed up to help change that. 

This story continues below.

DCSO, Dawson County Schools and other locals recently started the “We Care” campaign to help support the wider community by sharing mental health resources like the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.

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Photo submitted to DCN.

Previously known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 9-8-8 is a three-digit number people can call when they or someone they are concerned about is experiencing suicidal thoughts, substance use or any other type of mental/emotional distress, according to the lifeline’s website. 

The lifeline offers 24/7 calling and texting access to trained crisis counselors who can help people with resources to address these types of crises. For help, people can also chat via 988lifeline.org. 

Congress made 9-8-8 the new suicide and crisis lifeline number in 2020, and the number became available to people across the United States this past July. 

The number also has a Veterans Crisis Line for veterans in crisis and their loved ones, which can be reached by dialing 988 and then pressing 1. People can also reach out for veteran support by texting TALK to 838255 or by starting a chat on the 988 website.

“Too many people are experiencing suicidal crisis or mental health-related distress without the support and care they need,” DCSO Lt. Johnny Holtzclaw said in an email to supporters.

“Together, we recognize that suicide and mental health crisis is a reality that affects our friends, families and community. The We Care campaign is our way of getting the entire community involved in supporting those who are struggling or in crisis.” 

Getting help

The 988 lifeline is part of a larger conversation about suicide prevention awareness and addressing people’s mental and emotional health needs.

Last September, multiple mental health experts and care providers hosted a press conference in Dawsonville to promote locally-led suicide prevention and mental health and wellness efforts.  

Help Resources

  • 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline: Call 9-8-8; text TALK to 838255 or start a chat at www.988lifeline.org. The Veterans Crisis Line can be reached by dialing 988 and pressing 1.
  • Georgia Crisis and Access Line (GCAL): 1-800-715-4225; text and chat through the My GCAL app, available on Google Play and in the App Store
  • Crisis Text Line: Text TALK to 741741 or start a chat via WhatsApp
  • The Trevor Project (LGBTQ): 1-866-488-7386; text START to 678678 or start a chat at www.thetrevorproject.org/get-help/

Dawson County Family Connection Coordinator Rebecca Bliss said it’s important for people to recognize the warning signs of suicidal ideation and take them seriously. 

Warning signs can include but aren’t limited to talking about suicide, seeking out lethal means, having a preoccupation with death, self-hatred, self-destructive behaviors, withdrawal from others, getting one’s affairs in order or saying goodbye.

Upon identifying someone as potentially suicidal, Bliss added it’s important to ask specific questions about a person’s thoughts, feelings and intentions regarding suicide. 

“Asking the suicide question does not increase the suicide risk,” she said emphatically. “Listen. Talking things out can save a life. Don’t promise secrecy and don’t worry about being disloyal.”

If a person listening has determined that suicide is being discussed, there are multiple things that can be done to establish immediate safety.

It’s vital to get others involved when helping someone in distress and to not leave someone alone who has a plan or is actively attempting suicide. 

In that scenario, people should reach out for help immediately by calling 911. 

If someone is feeling suicidal, Bliss suggested removing harmful items from the home, going to a safe place, avoiding drugs and alcohol or promising not to harm oneself and stopping before acting on any intentions.

“Don't keep these suicidal feelings to yourself!” Bliss said. “Dawson County truly does care about you and has many people who want to support you in this difficult time. Reach out today to a healthcare professional, the school system, the sheriff’s office, your local faith organization…someone or anyone. [And] take hope – people do get through this.”

The most important thing we need to let our community know is that there is hope and we care about you.
DCSO Lt. Johnny Holtzclaw

Campaign efforts

Throughout Wednesday morning, DCSO filmed videos at Dawson County High School’s Tiger Stadium to raise awareness and show support for the campaign.

Video participants included dozens of students as well as other people from DCSO, Fire and Emergency Services, the Chamber of Commerce, the Board of Commissioners, Family Connection and the judicial system.

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DCSO Lt. Johnny Holtzclaw tells campaign participants that they can be a part of a community that actively supports people in distress. - photo by Julia Hansen

Holtzclaw called the “We Care” videos a way for participants to “help and be part of the solution to reduce the number of suicides in Dawson County and its surrounding communities.”

The videos will be released in early December and feature different Dawson County residents saying the simple but powerful phrase “We care.”

For the past month or so, DCHS teacher Beth Hamby’s introductory business class has worked on a project designing Dawson-specific “We Care” signage including the 988 lifeline’s graphics and information. DCHS students held the signs during the video filming. 

Hamby explained that members of the Future Business Leaders of America, the club she oversees, also wanted to be a part of the campaign. 

“Our FBLA really wanted to be involved because we know the importance of this cause, and we thought it was a great way to jump in and show our support for the community,” Hamby said. 

Banners and signs are being sold at the DCHS School Store. 

Holtzclaw thanked Wednesday’s attendees, particularly the students, for taking ownership of the “We Care” campaign. He reiterated that hope exists for locals experiencing mental distress. 

“The most important thing we need to let our community know is that there is hope and we care about you,” Holtzclaw said. 

DCN will continue to follow this campaign. 

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