A virtual open public forum meant to address the ongoing epidemic of suicide as the pandemic continues will be sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Church of Cherry Hill. The 90-minute presentation is set for Feb. 16 at 7 p.m.
Prompted by concerns over domestic issues that arise due to extended quarantine, as well as the issue of increased gun violence both inside and outside the home, Helen Ewan, chair of the church’s Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, calls suicide “another epidemic.”
The group began investigating the relation between suicides and gun ownership two years ago, and uncovered that approximately 130 lives are lost each day to suicide in the United States.
“We came to realize that suicides are a big portion of gun violence deaths in our state and our country. There are about 800 suicides per year in New Jersey, more than four times the homicide rates.” Ewan said on Feb. 3. “When we think of gun violence, we think of break-ins, but many more gun deaths arise due to suicide.”
Leading the way will be moderator and church member, Lisa Winkler. Four speakers are scheduled to appear: John F. Gunn III, Ph.D., New Jersey Gun Violence Research Center at Rutgers; Dr. Essie Larson, Ph.D., licensed clinical psychologist, Trinitas Institute; Maureen Fitzgerald, Moms Demand Action; and Barbara Maronski, Center for Family Services and Traumatic Loss Coalitions for Youth. A question-and-answer segment will be included.
The importance of holding the forum now, in the middle of winter, Ewan added, is due directly to the nearly year-long stresses from COVID, which have led to a higher rate of mental-health issues as well as a surge of gun sales in the state.
“And we’re concerned of a potential surge of deaths that include suicides,” Ewan explained. “Beyond this, we want the forum to touch on all forms of suicide. We want to give people tools to think about it, to be aware of it, to understand facts about it that aren’t common knowledge and to have ideas on how to cope with it if someone close to them might be thinking about it.”
Why should a church be tasked with holding a non denominational examination of an issue that holds deep religious significance for some? Ewan offered that the primary principle her church works from is promoting respect for the dignity and worth of every individual. The church also prides itself on a strong social justice program.
“We also have a deep involvement in racial and economic equity — which is top of the list right now,” she stated.
While the church itself is based in Cherry Hill, in pre-COVID times, parishioners came to worship and serve from across Camden, Burlington and Gloucester Counties. Casting such a wide net to help promote the church’s mission, Ewan said, comes in handy as the pandemic persists. Everyone is welcome to attend.
“Absolutely. We feel that many people are concerned about suicide and may not know how to get information and know what information can help them,” she offered. “That’s parents, loved ones, siblings, spouses, neighbors, friends. We want the community to be involved.”
To register for the forum, please visit: https://uucch.org/suicideforum/
A link to the meeting will be sent out to participants thereafter.