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'Sierra Day' focuses suicide, mental health awareness

Sanford Herald - 6/23/2022

Jun. 17—Wednesday was a tough day for Latishea McAuley, but her determination and strength to spread awareness of teen suicide was bolstered by the memory the June 15, 2020, event that changed her life.

That's the day that her 19-year-old daughter, Sierra A'lese McLean, took her own life. Her mother found the young woman's body, something that has stayed with her.

"I don't want any family to go through what I go through every day," McAuley said.

That's why she now observes Sierra Day on the date of her daughter's death with an event to bring awareness to suicide and mental health needs. This marked the second year of the event held at Cameron Grove A.M.E. Zion Church in Broadway.

"It's bringing hope to the hopeless and help to the helpless," Pastor Kenneth Swann said.

The cookout event included a bounce house and face-painting for children while adults sought shade under the shelter.

In her obituary, Sierra was described as "funny, outgoing, and vivacious. Like most teenagers, she adored playing video games, listening to music, dancing, and drawing. She could often be found sketching art. She also loved the outdoors, especially playing basketball and enjoying her dog, Max. Most importantly, Sierra had a deep love for her family and cherished the time spent while playing jokes on each other at family gatherings and on holidays."

Sierra had just graduated from high school on June 9, 2020, less than a week before her death,

The Lee County Sheriff's Office has joined in as a sponsor of the event.

The Sheriff's Office has responded to suicides, Sheriff Brian Estes said. The effect on families can be devastating.

"You think of the hard times people deal with," Estes said. "But with death, you can never forget. I will always be open and talk to people. Just be kind to each other."

Dr. Dorothy Waterson, owner of Set Apart Christian Counseling Center, helped McAuley through her grief. Mental health is an important factor in the community and it's important to recognize signs that someone may be contemplating suicide.

"If you know anyone who is having thoughts of suicide, get help. The problem is within everyone," she said.

"It takes a village to help someone through mental health treatment."


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