Suicide prevention educator to visit campus Feb. 28

Feb. 24, 2012
Contact: Karen B. Eldridge, Director of Communications

Karyl Chastain Beal’s 18-year-old daughter Arlyn died by suicide in 1996.

For the last 15 years, Beal, founder of the “Parents of Suicide-Friends and Families of Suicide" Internet community, has shared her daughter’s story and dedicated her life to helping others as a suicide prevention educator and suicide grief support leader.

She’ll visit Maryville College on Tues., Feb. 28, to talk about the impact a person’s suicide death has on the loved ones left behind.

“I’d like to encourage everyone in the community, whether you have been personally touched by suicide or not, to come to this event to learn more about this important public health issue,” said Anna Shugart, chair of the Blount County Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Alliance (MHASPA) and director of Blount Memorial Hospital’s Emotional Health and Recovery Center. “Karyl’s story is incredibly powerful.”

The event begins at 7:30 p.m. in the Lambert Recital Hall of the Clayton Center for the Arts. It is free and open to the public.

Last fall, Shugart and other professionals with MHASPA met with administrators and faculty at Maryville College to discuss a six-week emotional wellness initiative for the campus community. It was decided that the month of February would be the optimal time to explore mental and emotional wellness through “Feeling Blue?,” a series of communications, activities, educational opportunities and speakers.

“One death by suicide is too many, and Blount County suicide deaths continue to be above the national statistics for a community our size,” Shugart said. “Our hope in partnering with Maryville College for the ‘Feeling Blue?’ campaign has been to provide education and resources – not only to the students, faculty and staff of the College, but to the community, as well.”

Launched on Feb. 1, “Feeling Blue?” has communicated with College constituencies through a Facebook page that provides a regular flow of posts related to recognizing and dealing with “the blues,” stress management and what to do about more serious issues such as depression, anxiety or suicidal thoughts.

Blue posters with messages reinforcing the Facebook posts have been hung in high-traffic buildings of the College.

The initiative has also involved classroom presentations, discussions and “stress-buster” activities. Maryville College staff members and residence hall assistants participated Question Persuade Refer (QPR) suicide prevention training on Feb. 5.

Vandy Kemp, Maryville College vice president and dean of students, said the initiative has created “a buzz” on campus.

“I think our planning team has done a good job of reaching out to the campus community through multiple strategies,” she said. “Depression and stress are very common health hazard for the college population, so we were delighted to approach this issue with the assistance of [MHASPA].

“Maryville College and its students always benefit from strong partnerships with our community colleagues, and this is an excellent example of a successful collaboration.”

“Feeling Blue?” will likely become an every-other-year initiative at the College, according to Kemp.

“Sometimes programs have more impact if they are less frequent,” she explained. “This issue is so important that we want to be sure students are receptive and paying attention.”

Kemp added that students are being encouraged to attend the Feb. 28 event, and she agreed with Shugart that this was an important message for the entire community – not just the campus.

“Suicide is a tragedy for everyone concerned – certainly the victim, but also the family and friends of the victim,” the vice president and dean said. “I hope that audience members will understand this and will learn that there is always a better alternative.”

Following the event, attendees will have an opportunity to sign up for a QPR course that will be held at a later date.

Beal is active in suicide prevention networks

A resident of Columbia, Tenn., Beal holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education. She was an award-winning elementary school teacher in Georgia for 30 years before retiring soon after her daughter’s death. She now volunteers her time to educating people about suicide prevention and offering suicide grief support.

In 1998, she founded the Parents of Suicides-Friends and Families of Suicide Internet community, which is today the largest, most active such community in the English-speaking world.

In addition, Beal owns and manages several educational, support and prevention websites including the Faces of Suicide site, the Suicide Memorial Wall and the Suicide Grief Support Forum. She is active in the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network and on the state Suicide Prevention Advisory Council. She also coordinates the suicide memorial quilts in Tennessee.

Certified as a thanatologist by the Association for Death Education and Counseling, Beal has published articles for Chicken Soup for the Unsinkable Soul, the Journal for the National Alliance on Mentally Ill, Seventeen Magazine, Ezine and other publications. She regularly leads QPR courses.

For more information on the Feb. 28 program, contact Maryville College’s Student Development Office at 865.981.8213.

Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state's third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for offering its students a rigorous and highly personal experience that includes an undergraduate research requirement, Maryville College is a nationally ranked institution of higher learning that successfully joins the liberal arts and professional preparation. Total enrollment for the fall 2016 semester is 1,198.