Clackamas County's Suicide Prevention Coalition is holding its first sign rally Thursday, Sept. 9, in Oregon City, kicking off a series of similar events held throughout the county in honor of Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month.
"The whole idea behind the sign rallies is to infuse hope and connection into our community," said Galli Murray, suicide prevention coordinator in Clackamas County.
During sign rally events, coalition members and volunteers stand in high-visibility areas for hours holding up signs with "Don't Give Up" and other inspiring messages, such as "You Matter" and "Your Mistakes Don't Define You" and "One Day At a Time," waving and smiling at passersby while hoping to inspire a message of hope.
Murray said drivers and pedestrians regularly take the time to express their appreciation for the positive messages, saying they make them feel less alone and that they really needed the extra motivation to get through a challenging time.
"We have staff members who have signs that they put in their yard, and one member once received an anonymous note written on a paper napkin in their mailbox. The note basically said, 'I've been walking by your sign for several weeks now, and I wanted to tell you that every time I walked by these signs, they make me feel just a little bit better,'" Murray said.
The signs are created by Don't Give Up Signs, founded in 2017 by Newberg resident Amy Wolff. At that time, Wolff learned that youth in the area had been attempting and dying by suicide at an alarming rate, and proceeded to put out 20 signs around town with her husband and two daughters.
Within days, a buzz developed on local Facebook pages and a torrent of requests for signs followed. With some help from a local graphic designer, it wasn't long before Wolff established a website to sell them at cost and meet the demand.
"If this can open it up and make people talk about hard, messy things, the less shame we feel, the less secrecy we (have), the more alert we are, just all good things," Wolff told Pamplin Media Group in 2017.
The Oregon chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is another local organization spreading messages of hope through Wolff's signs. Volunteer Angela Perry said the foundation's main goal in doing sign rallies is to spark conversation.
"Our goal is to make people more comfortable talking about mental health, because everyone has mental health," Perry said. "Even with little kids, you can have the conversations about mental health and teaching them young, so that once they get to be a teenager or adult...it's not as hard or as scary to have those conversations."
Perry started volunteering with the foundation in 2014 after losing a childhood friend to suicide, and said being surrounded by people with shared experiences and passions showed her she was not alone.
"It finally got through to me that I'm not the only one who struggles with mental health," Perry said.
With chapters all across the country, the foundation hosts several events dedicated to education, community building, survivor support, support for incarcerated individuals and more. The foundation has had to postpone many of the events it would normally host throughout the year due to COVIID-19, but has implemented virtual events such as a statewide virtual walk on Oct. 16 to raise money for suicide prevention.
The foundation is almost entirely comprised of volunteers, which Perry said highlights that you don't have to be a mental health professional to get involved in suicide prevention or other work dedicated to mental health support.
"For the most part, we are just people who have been impacted by suicide, whether it's personal attempts, loss of loved ones — in my case, it's both — and just wanting to turn that pain into purpose," Perry said.
Murray highlighted that the Suicide Prevention Coalition is not comprised of mental health professionals either.
"You do not have to be a mental health professional to get involved in this work," she said. "What you can do is be intentional about connecting with other human beings, and that could be the people in your life or complete strangers you walk by on the streets."
"That takes a millisecond," Murray added. "Most of us are wearing masks these days, so even making eye contact, saying to someone, 'Hey, it's good to see you. I hope you're holding up OK,' or little messages that let people know that they're seen, that they're heard, and that they're not alone."
She said that establishing human connection is what suicide prevention is all about, and is the ultimate purpose of the series of sign rallies.
"At the root of what humans need is connection and there are really easy, simple, free ways to promote and infuse connection," Murray said. "And that's what the sign rally is all about promoting, is even if we have an impact on one person for the hour that we're standing in a busy intersection, then it's worth it."
For a full schedule of suicide prevention sign rally events organized by the Clackamas County Suicide Prevention Coalition, click here. Click here to learn more about the coalition, and here to learn more about the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
See below for a list of resources related to suicide prevention and mental health support.
Clackamas County Crisis Line
Provides 24/7, free, and confidential support.
Crisis Text Line
Text HOME to 741741 24/7 crisistextline.org/texting-in
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Text: teen2teen to 839863
Senior Loneliness Line
The Trevor Project Suicide Prevention Lifeline for LGBTQ youth
Trans Lifeline's Peer Support Hotline
Veterans Crisis Line
1-800-273-8255 press #1
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