Gravitating Towards Hope

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, a time to raise awareness for an often stigmatized topic. Sterling Ta’Bon (’18, ’20) uses his skills, knowledge and Campbell education to serve his community as a South Carolina Communities Care Coordinator for the Office of Suicide Prevention.

While completing his Bachelor of Science degree in Kinesiology and Exercise Science, Sterling was exposed to the world of Public Health through the Campbell University College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences. Through this experience, Sterling found his passion for working one-on-one with communities to overcome adversities. He went on to earn his Master of Science in Public Health through the same department that lit the flame inside him to lead with purpose and to make a lasting impact on this world.

Sterling expressed that Campbell University, “academically saved my whole career. Public health helped me have livable experiences. I was able to put definitions, terms, research and science behind the experiences that I lived through and the communities that I lived in.”

As a Communities Care Coordinator, Sterling expresses the importance of suicide prevention resources as we transition back to normalcy post-pandemic. “Over the past few years, we have been in a period of life where we all saw things and went through things, so it is important that we find ways to reconnect and rebuild, together.” Through his work, Sterling identifies his community’s unique needs and tailors the resources available.

Sterling is excited for the new Suicide Prevention Hotline number, #988, that launched in July 2022. “In my community, I am seeing that [the new hotline number] is opening doors for people to be more open to talk about things” and he feels that it is the initial step for someone to say, “I am in need of some care.”

According to the Federal Communications Commission, “In 2020 alone, the U.S. had one death by suicide every 11 minutes – and for people aged 10-34 years, suicide is a leading cause of death.”* Sterling feels that we must work together as a community to help lower these numbers and to turn things around.

“It’s going to take community efforts. People inviting people places and opening the door for conversation among different groups and generations to get these conversations going.”

“There are traumas that people come in with that we won’t ever be able to change,” says Sterling. But he feels that we can help start to initiate change by saying: “I see you. I validate that what you are experiencing may be true to you. But regardless of whatever happened to you, you are safe.”

Through creating these conversations and pockets of trust, Sterling is certain that these simple changes can have a lasting impact on the lives around us.

Sterling shared, “When one person dies by suicide, at least a minimum of 135 people are impacted. This includes friends, family and coworkers.” This sheds light on the huge need for educating ourselves on the warning signs associated with suicide. According to Sterling some of these indicators include: “if a friend is straying away, feeling guarded, giving away things such as cars or social media passwords.”

If you notice someone displaying concerning behaviors, it is then important to have an open conversation and to get them connected with the necessary resources. However, Sterling stressed the importance of using inviting language such as “what happened to you?” instead of “what is wrong with you?” Through using this language, you are opening the door for communication instead of closing them off further.

He encouraged those who are interested in learning how to be an ally to use resources and training through the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention or to attend community events, such as the Out of the Darkness walks that will be nationwide during the month of October.

Sterling expressed the importance of finding what grounds us as a way of preserving our mental health. He asks, “What is the thing that grounds us the most and the thing that we feel like we can lean on when everything else is in the way?” Through finding out what grounds us, Sterling believes, “we can then connect with other people that are also grounded and we can become rooted together.”

By surrounding ourselves with grounded people and through linking arms, we can change the world. “We cannot just do something off intentions, but is has to be based on a need, to be a representation of a community. We cannot just do things to check it off. In your community, you can find out what that means and then do impactful work. There is hope out there, and we need to gravitate towards that.”