OKLAHOMA CITY - BY JESSI MITCHELL, News 9

A new report shows Oklahoma’s suicide rate is 37 percent higher than the national average, but last week the state cut $300,000 from the suicide hotline program.

The Oklahoma City-County Health Department reports suicide rates rose from 12 per 100,000 people in 2010 to 16.6 per 100,000 by 2013. As funding decreases, advocates say now it is more important than ever to "Silence The Stigma" of mental illness in an effort to save lives.

“We want people to not be afraid to seek help,” said Gabe Jourden, co-chair of the Oklahoma chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

The organization hosted the Silence The Stigma discussion Sunday afternoon at Putnam City Baptist Church.

Dozens of families showed up to learn how to open up about mental health issues.

“The longer you hide it and the longer you stuff it down and don’t deal with it, the worse it can get and that’s oftentimes what leads to suicide,” said Carrie Blumert, a mental health specialist with the Wellness Now Coalition at the OCCHD.

Blumert said working at the health department, she wants to bust the myth that talking about suicide actually encourages action.

“When you bring it out into the open that someone is dealing with thoughts about suicide, it kind of relieves the pressure that they’re dealing with it on their own,” she said.

But it is becoming harder to get help in emergencies. Cuts to Heartline, Oklahoma's 211 suicide help line, means longer wait times. Jourden knows the importance of immediate help firsthand, after losing both his father and brother to suicide.

“They’re going to put people back towards a text message system or an email system, and people don’t want to wait for answers. They don’t want to sit on hold. They don’t want to wait for an email response. They want to talk to a live person,” he said.

Organizers with the Silence The Stigma movement hope friends and family can become the listening ear for those in crisis as the hotline struggles to handle the load.

“We really have to talk to our legislators as well and really encourage them that cutting a program like this is going to have pretty drastic effects,” Blumert said.

If you missed Sunday's event, there will be more Silence The Stigma talks in the future. The Out of the Darkness Walk is also coming up on Sept. 10 at Stars and Stripes Park. Registration for the walk begins at 9 a.m.

To reach the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, call 1 (800) 273-TALK (8255).