The emcee for the Suicide Prevention Summit on Thursday was Terry Lee, a nurse and the wife of Cedar Creek Church Senior Pastor Phillip Lee.
But she did more than introduce the keynote speakers, Truitt Taylor and Dana Cea, during the event at the Aiken County Government Center.
Terry also talked about the loss of one of her children, Phillip Lee Jr., to suicide.
He died last September at the age of 29.
“I want to paint a picture for you of a beautiful young man,” Terry said. “He was very much a go-getter. He was full of life and full of energy.”
Phillip Jr. played quarterback for the Aiken High School football team and also was a pitcher for the school’s baseball team.
“He taught himself how to play the guitar when he was in middle school,” Terry said. “He began his music career at our church, leading worship services for our youth.”
Phillip Jr. earned a baseball scholarship from USC Aiken.
His future was bright.
“But during his sophomore year, he threw out his pitching arm,” Terry said. “He had a rotator cuff injury and ended up having surgery. At that point, he knew his pitching career was over.”
It was a disappointing setback, but Phillip Jr. bounced back by focusing on his music.
“He became a professional singer and songwriter,” Terry said. “He released a CD in 2017 and had signed a contract with a music promoter in California.”
Phillip Jr.’s success, however, had a downside.
“One of the vocational hazards of his life was that he was in bars and venues playing very late at night,” Terry said. “That tripped him up and eventually caused him to deal with a substance abuse disorder. And then later, after he went to rehab and was in rehab for a period of time, he had a psychiatric evaluation and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.”
Even though Phillip Jr. was getting help, the downward spiral continued.
“He finally reached a point in his life where he felt utterly hopeless and isolated,” Terry said.
The impact of Phillip Jr.’s decision to commit suicide was devastating for those who loved him.
“I am walking in a very difficult and painful journey right now … our entire family is,” Terry said.
But while grieving, she also found a determination to reach out to others.
Earlier this year, Terry founded the Overflow Foundation, which promotes mental health awareness and suicide prevention. The organization also provides mental health education.
Terry urged her audience to join her in taking action to prevent suicide.
“Increase your education and decrease your fear,” she said. “Begin to talk about mental health and mental illness and substance abuse disorders and suicide in your home. Talk about it in your community and at your work. It’s up to each one of us to know the signs and symptoms, and to reach out a helping hand.”
The Coalition for Suicide Prevention of Aiken County, which was founded in 2013, organized the Suicide Prevention Summit.
During the event, Aiken Mayor Rick Osbon presented, on behalf of himself and Aiken County Council Chairman Gary Bunker, a proclamation that recognizes September as Suicide Prevention Month in the City of Aiken and Aiken County.
Whitney O’Connor, chair of the Coalition for Suicide Prevention of Aiken County, accepted the proclamation.
O’Connor said that as of Thursday, 22 people had died by suicide in Aiken County this year. They ranged in age from 16 to 95
The first of the Suicide Summit’s keynote speakers was Taylor, who hosts the One Percent Podcast, which shares stories about battling and surviving cancer.
Taylor, who is a cancer survivor, lost a brother to suicide.
Cea, the other keynote speaker, is a doctoral student in Rehabilitation Counseling and Administration in the Department of Addictions and Rehabilitation Studies at East Carolina University in North Carolina.
She lost her father to suicide.
For more information about the Coalition for Suicide Prevention of Aiken County, visit preventingsuicides.org.
For more information about the Overflow Foundation, visit overflow.foundation.
September is National Suicide Prevention Month.
National Suicide Prevention Week began Sept. 8 and ends Saturday.