BATON ROUGE – The Louisiana Department of Veterans Affairs (LDVA) is hosting a statewide Suicide Prevention Summit at the Historic Hotel Bentley on Sept. 14, and their closing speaker will be delivering message of hope and triumph based on her personal experiences.

The purpose of the summit is to increase attendee understanding of suicide, its prevalence, risk factors for Veteran populations, and assist them in acquiring tools for prevention, assessment, and intervention.

LDVA’s closing speaker will be Baton Rouge native, Veteran, and all-around mental health powerhouse, Tonja Myles.

Myles is an ordained minister, community activist, peer counselor, veteran, and sought-after counsel for community-based systemic approaches to mental wellness and rehabilitation. Her expertise comes from her own experience as an addict, suicide attempt survivor, and victim of childhood sexual abuse. She is an advocate for humane, compassionate, and ethical treatment of individuals who suffer from mental illness.

“I am very passionate about suicide prevention because I know how it feels to think that there is no hope,” says Miles candidly. “I am a two-time suicide survivor and have learned over the years that through faith, family, friends, and counseling, life is meaningful and that we all have purpose.”

Her journey led her from the crack house to the White House, where, in 2003, she was the honored guest of President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush at the State of the Union Address. In his address, President Bush acknowledged the rehabilitation program Myles created in Baton Rouge to help those addicted to drugs.

Today, Myles works in three Louisiana prisons with inmates who have substance abuse and mental health issues. She admits that sometimes things happen in our lives that we think we will never be able to overcome, or we just feel that we do not strength persevere.  She wants people to know that there are many ways they can learn to reach out for help, without shame or stigma, in order get the help they need.

“I want attendees to walk away understanding that with proper treatment, suicide is preventable, and empower them to know that we can all do something to help reduce the stigma surrounding mental health,” says Myles.

“My message will be that of hope, help, and healing,” says Myles. “There is life after a suicide attempt and I am proof of that.”

The LDVA has partnered with Overton Brooks VA Medical Center, Alexandria VA Healthcare Center, and the Southeast Louisiana VA Healthcare Center, to bring this no-cost summit to Louisiana.

Topics presented will include: “Suicide Prevention is Everyone’s Business” by Stacy Tucker, MSW, LCSW, “Resiliency: The Essential Life Protector” by Linda Heiman, MSW, LCSW, “Knowing the 14: How our national story about Veteran suicide is failing them, and what we can do about it” by Dr. April Foreman, “Zero Suicide” by Dr. Amanda Raines, “Hiding in Pain Sight: The Public Health Crisis of Suicide” by Dr. James C Patterson II, and “Stigma and Suicide” by Dr. Jody Meeks.

“The line-up of speakers and topics is amazing, and since I am last to speak, my message will be raw and real, but will leave everyone in a healthy and happy place,” says Myles.

“I think LDVA’s Suicide Prevention Summit is for anyone who wants to be a part of the solution and for those who want to educate their community about suicide prevention,” says Myles who encourages potential attendees to sign up before spaces run out.

The LDVA wants to take some time to talk about suicide because accurate information can help with our prevention efforts. If you are a Veteran, or know one who may be suicidal or needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1.

“Most all of all,” says Myles, “I want anyone who has ever had suicidal thoughts or even tried to commit suicide, to walk away knowing that their life matters, period!”

To register for the summit, please visit: LDVA Suicide Prevention Summit.