‘Igniting Hope’: combating suicide and depression in Cullman County


Karen Cook, founder of Cook Ministries, records a video of Justin Lynch, co-founder of Preventive Action of Cullman, during an Igniting Hope event at Heritage Park. (Hayden Hyatt for The Tribune)

CULLMAN – Saturday Karen Cook, founder of Cook Ministries, and Justin Lynch, co-founder of Preventive Action of Cullman (POC), spoke about suicide at an Igniting Hope event at Heritage Park. The events are held monthly at different locations throughout Cullman County and is aimed at suicide prevention and raising suicide awareness.

Igniting Hope is the result of combined efforts by Cook Ministries, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping those in the local community, and Preventive Action of Cullman, a group that seeks to bring awareness about suicide and depression and fight against it.

Lynch spoke to The Tribune about how the event came together.

“I actually found out through another organization about Karen, with Cook Ministries, and we had talked,” said Lynch. “We have the same interest in putting an end to depression and suicide. Both ministries decided to come together and do events like this every month called Igniting Hope.”

A rise in the number of suicides for Cullman County from 2016 to 2017 lead to Lynch forming POC and partnering with Cook Ministries to start Igniting Hope.

“I didn't know how big of an issue it was until I started running the numbers.” Lynch explained. “In Cullman County, in 2016 there were a total of 15 suicides and in 2017 there were 30. So it doubled from 2016 to 2017. One of the big reasons why we want to do stuff like this is because we don't want it to double from 2017 to 2018.”

Lynch believes that the stigma around suicide and depression is a big part of the issue. He hopes Igniting Hope is changing that.

“A lot of people don’t talk about suicide or depression because there is still such a stigma on it,” Lynch said. “I definitely think that since we’ve started that there has been more talk of it. We have been able to shed light on it a little bit.”

Cook says, if you believe someone is considering suicide don't be afraid to engage with them about it.

“If you know someone who is suicidal, don't be afraid to ask, 'Are you thinking of suicide?', because it's not going to make them start thinking about it,” said Cook. “It's only going to let that person know that it's okay to talk about it.”

Lynch hopes that in the future Cullman will have more help available for those suffering from depression or considering suicide.

“If people are thinking about suicide here there's not really a place for them to go. The only place that we have is the hospital,” he explained. “In Birmingham there's all kinds of crisis centers, treatment centers and stuff like that. I would love to be able to try and open that avenue here.”

Igniting Hope not only tries to raise awareness about suicide, but also offers sufferers help, according to Cook.

“Our ministry also is connected with a licensed Christian counselor here in Cullman, Dr. Howard Rodgers,” she said. “I know it's not a hospital, but at least there is somebody that we can refer people too and if money is an issue there's ways around that too.”

September is Suicide Awareness Month and Cook and Lynch plan to have another event, Igniting Hope to Restore Love, to spread awareness of this issue to the local community. The event is slated for Sept.7, 2018 and will be held at the Cullman County Courthouse. Cook and Lynch will be giving out suicide awareness pamphlets and information about where to turn for help all that day, then at 6 p.m. there will be a leadership prayer and different speakers discussing suicide issues on the front steps of the courthouse.

Lynch knows what a huge impact Igniting Hope will have if only one life is saved.

“If we go this whole year and one of these events in one of these communities saves one person from dying from suicide then we did our job,” said Lynch. “The more people that we can get involved in what we're doing the more people we'll be able to reach and the more we'll be able to do.”

For more information about Igniting Hope or for volunteer details, contact Cook Ministries at cookministries@gmail.com or Preventive Action of Cullman at preventiveactionofcullman@gmail.com.

If you are experiencing depression or considering suicide, please call 1-800-273-8255 or contact Dr. Howard Rodgers at 256-737-3087.

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