Free lecture in Hays to focus on stigma of suicide

Maria Perez
Maria Perez

News release

Suicide and the stigma attached to it will be the focus of a free public lecture at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 22, at Beach-Schmidt Performing Arts Center.

Speaking will be Maria Perez, a clinical pharmacist with Otsuka Pharmaceutical Co. in St. Louis. Her talk, titled “Mental Health Awareness: A Focus on Suicide and Stigma,” is part of the John C. Thorns Jr. Memorial Lecture Series. The event is being funded through grants from Midwest Energy and the United Way.

Introducing Perez will be special guest Dave Schramm, who presented the 2019 Thorns lecture. Schramm is a Hays native and an alum and former faculty member at TMP-Marian High School. He has openly shared his own story of surviving a near-fatal suicide attempt and moving forward in recovery. Schramm currently lives in San Francisco and teaches at the University of California-Davis.

Dave Schramm
Dave Schramm

Perez’ talk will look at “the importance of raising mental health awareness and the interplay between suicide, mental health conditions, and stigma,” as well as highlighting the resources available to prevent suicide, a news release stated.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, one of the co-hosts of the event, 1 in 5 U.S. adults experiences mental illness each year. That figure is 1 in 6 for U.S. youths aged 6 to 17. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people aged 10 to 34. At least 8.4 million people in the U.S. provide care for an adult with a mental or emotional issue, and those caregivers spend an average of 32 hours per week providing unpaid care.

According to the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability, the suicide rate for the state of Kansas rose by more than 60 percent, from 12.02 per 100,000 population in 2000 to 19.5 per 100,000 population in 2020. That gave Kansas the nation’s 13thhighest suicide rate.

The lecture series began in 2016 and is named in memory of John C. Thorns Jr., a former chair of the Fort Hays State University Art Department.

“He was a strong spokesperson for mental health and suicide prevention,” said Ann Leiker, one of the event’s organizers. Leiker recently retired as executive director of the Center for Life Experience, which is also one of the organizations co-hosting this event. 

Thorns was on CFLE’s founding board and helped start Healing After Loss of Suicide, one of the center’s grief support groups, Leiker said.

Hosts for the event are the City of Hays, Ellis County, and the United Way through CFLE; PsychU, a free community and online resource library for mental health; Otsuka; Camber Children’s Mental Health (previously KVC Hospital); High Plains Mental Health; the Health & Wellness Services at FHSU; and NAMI Hays and NAMI on campus.