Florence “Polar Plunge” much more than a start to the New Year

FLORENCE, Ala. – Hundreds of people gathered Tuesday afternoon around a flooded boat ramp at McFarland Park. They were not going to be deterred from their mission of bringing awareness to mental health issues.

Just after 1 p.m., 200 people got shivering cold in a water temperature of 51 degrees.

“Plunge into the New Year” began three years ago with just a handful of people. Organizer Josh Miles and his wife started the yearly event after they lost a dear friend and fellow Marine to a growing problem among veterans.

“It’s an epidemic; there’s no doubt,” stated Miles. “Hopefully this will get someone pointed in the right direction or at least open a few eyes. I don’t know what our purpose is other than that.”

Miles says not many people want to talk about it, but 22 veterans a day take their own life. He uses the audience lined up on the banks of the Tennessee River to bring attention to suicide prevention.

Attendee Helen Allman knows the reality all to well. Her son served four years in the Marines, and it’s a constant struggle among his fellow veterans.

“He’s had friends who have committed suicide,” Allman explained. “He is still in touch with his buddies from the wars he has been in, and they try and encourage each other when times are tough.”

Josh Miles said in the time it took him to get ready at McFarland Park on Tuesday three veterans, somewhere in the nation, took their life. Hopefully with the outpouring of support shown in Tuesday’s polar plunge more can be prevented.

There is immediate help for anyone who is contemplating taking their own life. 161 crisis centers remain open around the clock nationwide. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-TALK.

More resources for suicide prevention can be found on the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website.