Suicide prevention is a matter close to Krissi Raine’s heart, so she’s passionate about helping raise awareness about mental health services and the signs of crisis during September, which is Suicide Prevention Awareness month.

“I had a friend who took her life four years ago, and I’ve seen the need for people who want counseling, but they don’t always have financial assistance,” Raines said.

As program director for a federal grant at Westview Behavioral Health Services in Newberry, Raines works across nine counties organizing community events and training programs to teach people the signs of declining mental health and impending crisis. She started the Carolina Project in May 2019 as an initiative to provide mental health first aid kits and works as a counselor through her Abbeville-based company, Bow and Arrow Coaching.

“The way we help people when they’re suicidal is not when they’re suicidal, it’s way before the crisis occurs,” she said.

During suicide prevention awareness month, Raines said she’s designed and is selling a T-shirt to raise money for the Caroline Project and to fund a variety of educational resources. Through a grant, she said she teaches a mental health first aid class that goes over the signs and symptoms of a person experiencing crisis and how to help when someone is having suicidal thoughts.

A sudden change in behavior, such as an increase in alcohol or drug use, or a person isolating themselves, giving their belongings away or being agitated easily can all be signs that something is amiss. Often the reaction to these behaviors is to step back and give the person space or avoid interacting with them, but Raines said this might be when that person needs intervention most.

“One of the things I’ve learned is when you see a lot of suicides in a community, it’s often a reflection of a sickness in the community and not sickness of the individual,” she said.

At last week’s Abbeville City Council meeting, Mayor Santana Delano Freeman presented Raines a proclamation recognizing September as Suicide Awareness and Prevention Month.

“Suicide is real, and I think that it does not get the coverage or respect that it deserves,” Freeman said.

Too often, he said signs of mental health struggles are dismissed as personal problems or there’s a hesitancy to talk openly about them. When people are dismissive of concerning behavior they see in others, they could be leaving that person to struggle alone.

Six people have lost their lives to suicide in Abbeville this year, Freeman said, and he wants people to carefully listen to one another and care about these warning signs.

“It makes you wonder what was going on in that person’s life that they thought they needed to do that,” he said. “It makes you think about the people they’ve left behind, and the questions they’ll keep having after that.”

Raines said she wants to work to reduce the stigma around talking about mental health and make it a community-wide discussion.

People are less likely to overlook mental health problems in their family and friends if they’re better informed and more aware of them.

For people struggling with mental health, she said a big step in improving it is developing healthy coping skills. The easy route for dealing with stress and anxiety often makes the problem worse — turning to drinking, using drugs, focusing only on work or falling back on other vices doesn’t provide real relief.

Instead, she advocates getting outside and getting at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day. Prayer, meditation or other practices to help clear the mind are also tools to help cope with negative emotions.

“One of the things I realized about myself is that I work a lot,” Raines said. “One of the goals I set for myself is to make sure I have three times a week where I’m meeting up with friends, even if it’s virtually.”

Making plans and thinking actively about life helps keep people from feeling trapped and gives them a sense of control, she said.

While she teaches classes to private groups and is planning classes with local law enforcement agencies, she said there are other local resources people can tap into if they need help. The Beckman Center for Mental Health Services can put people on the right path, and she cited Synergy Counseling and even Cornerstone for people struggling with substance abuse.

“Burying our head in the sand and pretending it’s going to go away, that’s something we’ve done for years,” she said, “and if we continue to do it, we’re only going to see it hit closer and closer to home.”

For information on Westview, the Caroline Project or the classes Raines teaches, email kraines@westview

Contact staff writer Damian Dominguez at 864-634-7548 or follow on Twitter @IJDDOMINGUEZ.