Stacey Williams has spent the past three years with the Missouri Department of Mental Health, where she takes on the role of the state’s suicide prevention coordinator.
September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, carrying a theme Williams’ tries to push year-round through campaigns and grants that she oversees: Suicide is preventable and suicidal thoughts are treatable.
Williams is the sole statewide suicide prevention coordinator, though she noted that some individual state agencies may have some specific suicide prevention programs. She noted that some states have entire teams devoted to this area. In Missouri, that team is simply just Williams.
“It’s me and my team of me,” she said with a laugh.
Williams said her desire to study psychology likely stemmed from a curiosity sparked by a family history of mental health issues. While studying the field, Williams said, she discovered how much she loved making connections with people and helping to find solutions.
“I think I’m really good at solving conflicts, being kind of the mediator,” Williams said. “I like doing that and bringing people together, getting people from the CEO to the client we’re serving … all in the same room and get everyone talking.”
Williams was working in a psychiatric group home when she decided to pursue a master’s degree in social work at the University of Missouri. At the time, she continued working while earning her master’s through a part-time program, all while raising a toddler at home.
“Looking back I think ‘how did I do that? How’s that even possible,’” she said, adding that her supportive husband definitely played a role in making that workload manageable.
Her master’s degree focused on policy planning and administration rather than the clinical track, as Williams said her passion is working on the big picture, which is what eventually brought her to the Department of Mental Health.
In her role, she oversees two federal grants, one of which focuses on youth prevention and another one that’s geared toward adults. Both grants include pilot programs in cities including Kansas City and St. Louis that focus on intervention, as well as campaigns and conferences that emphasize prevention.
Williams has also started several initiatives and helped to establish the Missouri Suicide Prevention Network, which launched in October 2018 and brought different stakeholders together to work in tandem on suicide prevention, effectively forming a statewide committee to organize prevention efforts.
“I’m excited about that,” Williams said. “I think the first statement I said when we had our initial meeting was ‘oh my gosh, thank you guys for being here and now I have help.’”
The group is working on updating the state plan for suicide prevention and trying to put together a proposal for a more consolidated effort for schools when a suicide happens. Williams said ideally, they would like to have a procedure in place for every school regardless of size or location to receive the same response, with a team sent from the state to help the school community cope and move forward. It’s ensuring that both prevention and treatment are included in the response, she said, that hopefully will save lives.
With a job where you are constantly focused on suicide, there can be some dark moments. For Williams, some of those come when she receives the daily death report, a listing of anyone who was within the Department of Mental Health services who died and details of the death.
“It can be really disheartening and there’s been times when I’ve had to shut the door (to the office) and just be by myself for a minute and tear up,” Williams said. “And that’s OK because it makes me human. … If I get to the point where it doesn’t affect me like that, at least every once in a while, then I’m getting burned out.”
Even with the difficult weight her job can sometimes place on her, Williams remains passionate about what she does.
“I really love my job,” Williams said. “I get to do a little bit of everything and every day is different.”
The role of suicide prevention coordinator satisfies Williams’ desire to focus on the big picture while still allowing her to have the personal connections of helping individuals, she said.
Most recently, her most rewarding moment on the job has been working on the latest suicide prevention campaigns and seeing the final result on social media or billboards. The campaigns have specific messaging meant to target different groups, from youth to veterans to men who may be too proud to ask for help. Williams said she got really excited when her 12-year-old niece told her that the crisis text line Williams had mentioned to her was something she saw on her SnapChat.
“Things like that, I get excited about,” Williams said, smiling.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides free, confidential, 24/7 support. Call 1-800-273-8255 or visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org to chat online.
The Crisis Text Line also provides free and confidential support by text. Simply text HOME to 741741 from anywhere in the United States. Visit crisistextline.org for more information.
The Veterans Crisis Line can be reached at 1-800-273-8255 or veteranscrisisline.net.
The Trevor Project LGBTQ Crisis Hotline can be reached at 1-866-488-7386.
The Trans Lifeline can be reached at 1-877-565-8860 or translifeline.org.
• More than 1,100 Missourians died by suicide in 2017, outnumbering the number of deaths by motor vehicle accidents, opioid overdoses or homicide.
• Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in Missouri and the United States.
⁃ Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-34 year olds and the fourth leading cause of death among 35-54 year olds.
• Suicide rates have increased by more than 36% since 1999.
• 80% of those who died by suicide were male
• 92% of those who died by suicide were Caucasian
• 61% of all suicides in 2017 involved firearms, followed by suffocation at 24% and poisoning at 14%
The signs below may mean someone is at risk for suicide. The risk is greater if a behavior is new or has increased and if it seems related to a painful event, loss or change.
• Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself.
• Looking for a way to kill oneself, such as searching online or buying a gun.
• Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.
• Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.
• Talking about being a burden to others.
• Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs.
• Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly.
• Sleeping too little or too much.
• Withdrawing or feeling isolated.
• Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.
• Displaying extreme mood swings.
If someone you know is thinking about taking their life, take it seriously. Suicidal thoughts can be life-threatening. Let them know their life matters to you. Stay with them. Help them create a safe environment by offering to remove lethal means. Talk to them in private and listen to their story. Encourage and help them find treatment.
For more information, visit the Suicide Prevention Resource Center.
Information provided by the Missouri Department of Mental Health