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Two influential foundations, both working individually to prevent suicide, are merging.
The news broke on the set of Westford Health Beat earlier this month, when host Ray Peachey interviewed Team Forever Young members, Nancy Cook and Jackie Zegowitz.
Peachey is the town’s Substance Abuse Prevention Coordinator.
Cook and Zegowitz spoke with Peachey about changing the stigma associated with mental illness, depression, and suicide. Over the past 10 years, Team Forever Young has raised more than $650K for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention through a variety of fundraisers including 16 – 18 mile Out of the Darkness overnight walks and a sold out, red carpet gala in Lowell in February.
The AFSP’s goal is to reduce suicide by 20 percent by 2025, said Cook. Her group wants to assist reaching that goal by applying a more hands-on approach locally. Team Forever Young has merged with the Littleton-based suicide prevention group, See a New Sun. SANS was founded by Barbara Whitcomb and her son, Westford Chief Dispatcher Tim Whitcomb. The family lost a loved one to suicide 18 years ago.
Cook and Zegowitz will be using some of the education dispersed through SANS to reach out further to those contemplating suicide. One of the programs, SOS or Signs of Suicide, is an award-winning, nationally recognized program that teaches middle and high school students how to recognize the symptoms of suicidality and depression in themselves and others.
The goal of the SOS is to “decrease suicide and suicide attempts,”said Cook. “The way they want to go about doing that is by increasing knowledge, adapting attitudes, and encouraging personal help seeking. It’s trying to reduce the stigma of mental illness; it’s engaging parents and (school) staff as gatekeepers. It’s encouraging schools to develop community based programs.”
Cook and Zegowitz will be taking the SOS course in October in hopes to encourage more schools and communities to incorporate the program in their curriculum and community education.
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