AS Vira Salzburn says in her suicide prevention workshops, "Let’s get comfortable being uncomfortable."
September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and talking about suicide is both uncomfortable and necessary. In Chatham County in 2016, 47 people died by suicide. Salzburn, project manager at the Chatham County Safety Net Planning Council, notes that this number is higher than the state average.
“A lot of suicides might not be reported as such because it’s not clear whether it was an overdose or something else,” says Salzburn. “The estimated number of attempts for each suicide is 25 to 1, and those numbers are conservative.”
Prevent Suicide Today, managed by Chatham County Safety Net Planning Council, offers programming to help prevent suicide. One such program is ASIST, or Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training.
“We trained twenty people from different organizations in our community to be trainers for ASIST workshops,” Salzburn explains. “We have trainers from Savannah State and Georgia Southern, from both hospital systems, from the sheriff’s office—whoever wanted to send someone. It’s now a collaboration of twenty partnerships. It’s a community approach to saving lives.”
The workshops, available monthly, are open to anyone older than 16 who lives and works in Chatham County.
“The workshops cost money, and that’s where the improv show will help,” says Salzburn.
On Sept. 29, Front Porch Improv presents Keep It Together: A Night of Mental Health Storytelling and Comedy.
Front Porch invites five talented storytellers to share stories that will be improvised by comedians on the spot.
“In essence, we have our wonderful storyteller spilling their hearts,” says Front Porch Improv co-founder John Brennan. “It’s heavy duty—it’s life and death, right? Improvisers will do scenes inspired by the moments in the story. We’re not doing jokes, but what happens with the connection of the powerful storytelling, we’ll create scenes of slice-of-life stuff that we’ve found from our professional lives to be very funny. It’s almost a comedic play.”
“The theme is Keep It Together, so whatever that means to the storyteller,” adds co-founder Brianne Halverson. “A time they could keep it together, a time they couldn’t keep it together. It could be directly related to mental health, it doesn’t have to be—it just has to be true. It’s heavy and light at the same time, which I think is honestly the best. It’s grounded. Who hasn’t been in a dark situation?”
The five storytellers are Maureen McFadden, Coco Papy, Lisa Ring, James Lough, and Patt Gunn. Their stories will be improvised by Brennan and Halverson, along with Averie Storck, Christopher Danger Mendrala, Joshua Christian, and Jordan Scott Edwards.
Proceeds from Keep It Together will benefit Prevent Suicide Today and funding scholarships for ASIST workshops.
“The workshops cost $125, but for some people who really want to learn, they can’t afford that,” Salzburn says.
Prevent Suicide Today also partnered with the Savannah–Chatham County Public School System to train all full-time employees in SuicideTALK, a free version of the ASIST workshops.
“Last month we got an email from a school nurse who had gone through the training,” she explains, “and she believed she had saved a life because she was directly able to ask, ‘Are you thinking about suicide?’”
For Salzburn, the choice to partner with Front Porch Improv was clear.
“It’s about sustaining life,” Salzburn says. “It’s to prevent suicide in our community, to make sure people are happier and doing things that make their lives meaningful. This is where improv fits so well—it’s laughter, it’s self-care.”