Some of Graves County’s youth are more motivated than ever to help those in their darkest hours, according to Courtney Williams, youth coordinator for the local Agency for Substance Abuse Prevention/Policy (ASAP).

The ASAP Youth Council consists of arpproximately 25 persons from ages 13-18. Williams said their talks have lately shifted to suicide prevention. She noted their rhetoric is quite different from prior generations when it was considered “taboo” to talk about.

“In our meetings in the past, our youths have really talked about emphasizing mental health and suicide awareness, because they see it every day at school,” Williams said. “They see their peers turn to substances to cope with their feelings, because they never learned how to handle those situations.”

She believes that peoples’ mental health has especially “worsened” due to the pandemic, as many have had to contend with isolation at home. To make matters worse, important awareness events like the Suicide Glow-Walk have been forced to cancel.

“It’s just completely turned everybody around,” she said.

For Williams, the public’s current mental health is why it is so important to reach out to those suffering and help pull them back.

The state also highlighted Suicide Prevention Week on Tuesday. Gov. Andy Beshear signed a proclamation to declare Sept. 5-11 National Suicide Prevention Week.

He and Lt. Gov. Jaqueline Coleman have met with mental health advocates and University of Louisville Health — Peace Hospital officials to raise awareness throughout the state. Kentuckians are encouraged to “take action if they know someone is in a crisis,” the press release reads.

“The isolation and uncertainty caused by a global pandemic is unavoidable. But we must acknowledge how it has greatly affected the mental health of our students,” Coleman said in the release. “According to the Kentucky Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 15% of Kentucky high school students reported having seriously considered suicide within a 12-month period. We must all work together to solve this epidemic.”

Last year, 756 Kentuckians died by suicide which makes it the 11th leading cause of death and second among ages 10-34, the release reads.

In May, Beshear took actions to increase mental health services for Kentuckians. The state received a $340,000 grant to “build capacity” for the transition to a nationwide 988 hotline. Until then, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 800-273-8255.

Williams said she believes the stigma surrounding suicide talks has actually weakened. People have become more comfortable discussing it, and realize they are “not the only person that’s dealing with this.”

“When we talk about it and we normalize that it’s okay to not be okay, that you’re more likely to get help,” she said “You’re more likely to go to the doctor, you’re more likely to get treatment. When you see you are not the only one struggling I think that’s very important.”

Youths between 13 and 18 that are interested in the ASAP Youth Council’s events and meetings are encouraged to contact Williams at courtney.gcasap@gmail.com

The National Suicide prevention Hotline is 800-273-8255. Residents of Graves County can also call 800-592-3980.