To mark National Suicide Prevention Week, Sweat is asking the Facebook community to shine light on an often-taboo subject by changing their profile photos to an image of a blue candle to raise suicide awareness.
Since her son Joshua Goley’s death April 24, 2011, Sweat, 46, said social media has provided an outlet to reach out to others in times of great need.
The lifelong Cherokee County resident said her 25-year-old son masked his depression around his family by self-medicating to hide his pain.
“He made an appointment (to speak with a professional), but he didn’t make it to that appointment,” Sweat said. “I don’t want anyone else to get to that place.”
Sweat said she and her husband, who at the time was a sheriff’s deputy, were called to the hospital that fateful evening and were notified by her brother, Sheriff Roger Garrison, of her son’s passing.
“Really, the first six months were horrible,” Sweat said of the aftermath of her son’s death.
In an attempt to pull her mother out of sadness, Sweat said her 23-year-old daughter Kasey Smith told her to do “anything she needed to do” to feel better, and that’s when Sweat started the Facebook page.
“It seems like therapy for me to try to help bring light to other people,” Sweat said. “I feel like my son is with me the whole time … like he’s helping me.”
Like Joshua Goley, many suffering from depression tend not to ask for help in a crisis for fear of ridicule or embarrassment, Sweat said.
“The (thought of) ‘what if someone knows’ just pushes those suffering deeper in this darkness,” Sweat said.
According to the American Association of Suicidology, suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States with one suicide occurring on average every 14.2 minutes. Suicide is the third-leading cause of death among 15- to 24-year-olds, the association reports.
Bringing the stigma surrounding the issue of suicide and depression to light is the main goal of Sweat’s Facebook page, “Joshua’s Light.”
Sweat said she is also pursuing her master’s degree in mental health and substance abuse counseling through an online program. Though she notes on the page that the information she posts is not meant to replace advice from a doctor, she said she still feels like she is helping others.
“I want people to know they are not alone and feel comfortable reaching out for the help they need,” Sweat said of her goals for the Facebook page.
On the Facebook page, Sweat provides numbers for national suicide hotlines, information about local mental health and addiction counseling services and encouraging words. So far, almost 250 people have “liked” the page.
A post from Saturday reads: “Prevention may be a matter of a caring person with the right knowledge being available in the right place at the right time.”
In the less than 16 months since losing her son, Sweat said she has had three people contact her in a state of crisis whom she has attempted to help through providing information, support and even checking in with people over the phone.
“I repost a lot as it just may be the day that something that has been posted 50 times finally hits home to someone,” Sweat said.
She said a lot of the information required her to do research and people in crisis often don’t have as much time to look for help.
“With all the technology out there today, either through (the) computer or even your cellphone, people can go straight to this page and find the information they need — that can take hours to search for especially if you are in a crisis situation and unable to think clearly,” Sweat said.
Garrison said he is proud of his sister’s efforts to help with suicide education and awareness.
“There’s always that potential that this event could impact anybody,” Garrison said. “Certainly my family’s not been excluded.”
The sheriff personally notifies almost all Cherokee families of suicide victims and said he tries to handle the situations compassionately.
“In my 20 years, I’ve seen a number of these cases where suicides have occurred and families are left asking why,” Garrison. “Unfortunately, there’s just not a simple answer as to why.”
However, Garrison said his sister’s efforts have proven social media can be the tool to help someone in times of need.
“I know she has quite a number of (Facebook) friends and that word gets out there exponentially because of that,” Garrison said. “I’m very proud that she’s taken such a dark spot in life and turned in to something positive to hopefully help other people.”