Story and photo by Joyce Coronel
For Kariana Blanchard, the early childhood coordinator at Tempe’s Arizona Community Church, the topic of suicide is deeply personal. She grew up hearing that her grandmother’s sister and mother’s stepbrother both took their own lives.
“That was all that was ever said—that they committed suicide,” Blanchard said. “And I grew up realizing how many questions that left for the loved ones.”
Later, as an adult, Blanchard had a little boy in her Sunday school class named Preston. When he was in seventh grade, he too, took his own life. “Ever since then, that really ignited a passion in me.”
After the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention established a chapter in Arizona, Blanchard got involved. “I volunteer as much as I can to get the prevention side out there, to get the conversation rolling. What signs did I as a Sunday school teacher miss?” Blanchard muses. “It may have just been something he kept so private that there wasn’t anything to see. But I want to be aware and I want to make sure my children are aware.”
As part of her commitment to help educate the community and prevent further tragedies, Blanchard recently presented “More Than Sad” at Arizona Community Church.
A parent information meeting was held first, and student sessions took place later in the week. The program was developed for middle school, junior high and high school students and the AFSP is trying, Blanchard said, to get it into more school districts.
Through video presentations and materials, students learn to identify depression in themselves and others. They also learn that no one—not the jocks, not the “perfect” students— no one is immune from its scourge.
The fact that the program is being presented in a church setting offers a unique opportunity, Blanchard added. The Christian community needs to understand that suicide has to do with mental illness, not lack of faith.
“Years ago, it was, ‘Oh, suicide. I guess they didn’t believe.’ No. That isn’t true. And we have to stop saying that so that people will get help,” Blanchard said.
The stigma grew surrounding mental illness and suicide is something she’s hoping the More Than Sad presentations will help change.
“They’re finding with research that 90 percent of the people who attempt or who are successful in suicide, that it’s a treatable mental illness.”
Part of overcoming the stigma is changing the language.
Instead of referring to someone as having “committed suicide,” the new phrase the prevention community is using is “death by suicide.” That alone might move the conversation in a different direction. “If in fact this was a mental illness, it was an untreated mental illness. That’s no different than cancer or diabetes,” Blanchard said.
The Corona community has been hit in recent years with a rash of suicides, something Blanchard is painfully aware of.
“We have been very connected with Corona and the Corona community and our goal right now is to get on the front end,” Blanchard said.
“Let’s be there for them in their time of crisis and grief, but let’s get there before so that we don’t have the crisis and the grief.”
The beauty of having the More Than Sad program at ACC, Blanchard said, is the ability to share the information in light of the Gospel.
“You can get help, and please seek help, but let me tell you about my friend Jesus who will turn your world around in heartbeat,” Blanchard said.
“I’m very excited.”