As a graduate student in social work at Jacksonville State University, Torsten Dryden saw the stigma surrounding psychology. People didn’t understand that psychology helped people. People who needed psychological help wouldn’t reach out, wouldn’t get the help they need. Dryden decided to do something about it.
In June 2015, he launched The Choice: A Mental Health Initiative. At first, he focused on educating Jacksonville residents about the positive impact of psychology, but soon branched out into community discussions on suicide, educating the public about mental disorders and assisting people in finding mental health care in the area.
In 2015, Dryden also held the first Sounds of Summer music festival to raise the funds needed to keep The Choice running. The festival raised $1,850.
The third annual Sounds of Summer music festival will be held Friday and Saturday at Camp Pink in Jacksonville. Twenty-two bands have agreed to play, including VEDA, Blake Graham and Chemical Ex. Dryden’s band, The Sunsets, will also perform.
“It’s a rain or shine event,” Dryden said. “There’s free camping, concessions and vendors. It’s a lot for only $20.”
Gadsden-based progressive metal band VEDA will be playing the festival for the third time. Band manager Devin Williams said they had a really positive response to the first Sounds of Summer festival and kept coming back. “We’re happy to play,” he said.
Williams said he is glad there is a music festival where local bands can get their music heard. He said there are quite a few “extremely talented musicians” in the area.
“When people think of music fests, they think of Warped Tour or something,” Williams said. “This is like Warped Tour on a smaller scale.”
Dryden said he already knows what he wants to do with the funds raised by this year’s festival. “We want to start a mental health first aid class,” he said.
Dryden said the class will be an eight-hour class to certify participants in emergency mental health aid. He said he is modeling the class after first-responder certification courses like CPR. The class will cover different disorders and scenarios. Dryden plans to start the course in September.
In addition to the mental health class, Dryden said The Choice has decided to make suicide prevention and awareness a priority.
“The suicide rate in Calhoun County among youth and adults has been on the rise for several years,” Dryden said. “We have made suicide prevention/awareness the focal point of our talks, presentations and programming in order to raise community awareness, which will hopefully save lives.”
According to the Association of Suicidology, which tracks suicide statistics in the U.S., suicide was the second most common cause of death for people ages 15 to 24 in 2015, the most recent data available. The organization’s data shows Alabama had a suicide rate of 15.4 per 100,000 people. That is higher than the national average of 13.8 and higher than the South at 14.3.
Jacksonville residents held a community meeting to decide what to do about the rising suicide rates in 2015, but the rate has continued to rise. Dryden hopes to stem that by educating people about suicide and making it easier for people to get help.