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Finish Strong

Monday, April 20, 2020   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Professional Educators of Tennessee
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Finish Strong  [View/Download PDF]


It was a little over a year ago when I lost a good friend to suicide. As I heard the news, I felt powerless and numb. Then I wondered, what if I had talked with him, would that had made a difference? Could I have changed the trajectory of life? Would my friend still be here? I will never know. He didn’t reach out. I didn’t know how much he was hurting.


As I write this, there are roughly 7,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Tennessee. However, journalist Harriet Wallace shared some statistics that truly stunned me. Since March, calls into suicide hotline are up over 800%! The overdose rate is also on the rise. There is a 30% increase in calls to domestic violence hotline. Do you think that the 325,000 folks who find themselves suddenly unemployed since March are now struggling to figure out how to survive in this world? Businesses who barely made it have closed and many will not be back. People are hurting.


Lives have been changed. We will all have a learning curve to ascertain the reality that awaits. There will be success, failure, and reinvention----but we must cling to hope. We know that the COVID-19 global pandemic will leave scars on our mental and physical health that we may never lose in our lifetime. These wounds are not limited to the epidemic. On average, 132 Americans died by suicide each day, and over 16 citizens die each day in Tennessee. Numbers that are likely to increase.


“The state of Tennessee is top ten in the nation for domestic violence homicides. Tennessee is one of the most violent states, ranking between fifth and first in the nation. Besides drugs, domestic violence is a major contributor to the high number of violent crimes per state resident,” said Dave Clark, district attorney general for the 7th Judicial District in Tennessee.


It was Paulo Coelho de Souza, a Brazilian lyricist and novelist, who reminded us that “Tears are words that need to be written.” When people hurt, they need compassion for their pain and a reminder that everyone hurts sometimes. Helping others overcome their troubles can help us to conquer our difficulties. We must be proactive, rather than reactive.


My friend Robin Smith, who is also a state representative, wrote about the death of a 4-year-old Chattanooga boy who died after a after a tornado ripped through his home. She wrote from the heart, “God, please let us grow stronger and closer. Let's decide to learn from these days of loss.” It is more a plea than a prayer. Are you ever struck with the sudden realization that so much has changed in such a short period? What we have tried to do is put a band-aid on a gunshot wound, and not understood people are bleeding all around us. Our state is hurting.


Norman Cousins wrote that “death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.” That is a philosophical debate that we can each have with ourselves and others. We can look at underlying causes, we can analyze and debate, but it doesn’t stop the pain while people hurt. Most people only take action when it affects them personally.


Perhaps the greatest gift you can give a friend is the mere gift of your presence. Robert Greenleaf wrote that caring for persons, the more able and less able serving each other is the rock upon which a good society is built. Just simply knowing you are loved and appreciated makes an impact. Isolationism may be good for combating COVID-19 but may exacerbate far more dangerous issues that will cause even more deaths.


My friend, who took his life had launched a national movement with his slogan “Finish Strong” Sadly, he didn’t heed his own advice. When we return from this global pandemic and start building our lives back, we must look at mental health issues to address the problems we face as a society. I am particularly concerned about our school-age children and educators.


The National Institute for Mental Health reports one-in-five US adults will suffer from a mental health condition during his or her lifetime, and countless family members and friends will be affected in the process. We need more guidance counselors in our schools and we need to lose the stigma of people who seek counseling. Our citizens are facing serious psychological distress now, and in the immediate future, and deserve real-time mental health support and guidance. If we can get all Americans the help they need, then we can “Finish Strong,” and perhaps people will finally stop hurting. 





JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited. For more information on this subject or any education issue please contact Professional Educators of Tennessee. To schedule an interview please call 1-800-471-4867 ext.102.

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