Alana Pinchback: Providing hope and help

by Sonja J. Keith

Using her own personal struggle with depression as a teenager, Alana Pinchback is reaching out to others to provide hope and awareness to help prevent suicide.

In May, she will have worked four years as executive director for the Dr. Robert E. Elliott Foundation. She was drawn to the position because of her experience as a teenager when she suffered from depression. “It was the 70s and there was not a lot of information” or resources available about depression, she explained, but with a loving and supportive family she was able to get the help needed.

“It seemed like there was so much embarrassment and shame that went with it,” she said of the public perception of depression. She was excited to work with an organization dedicated to changing the perception about depression and helping to prevent suicide.

The foundation was created in 2001 and is named for the late Dr. Robert Elliott. According to Alana, the doctor’s family and friends began gathering regularly to work through their grief and decided the best way to honor his memory would be the creation of a foundation to help others.

Originally from Forrest City, Alana attended high school and college in Jonesboro. She and her family moved to Searcy in 2001 after her husband accepted a position at Arkansas State University at Beebe. “It’s a great place to raise a family,” she said.

Alana recalls that when her family moved to Searcy she was overwhelmed by the number of people who asked if she knew Elliott. She said the community, including those who were not necessarily close to Elliott, was devastated by his death. “I was so impressed by how one person’s life affected so many people,” she said. “He had such an impact on the community.”

Elliott, a radiologist, was instrumental in the passage of mammogram legislation. “He had such a profound impact on so many.”

Unfortunately, he battled depression and ultimately took his own life.

According to Alana, Elliott was a strong advocate for education, which is reflected in the foundation’s works to educate the community about depression and suicide. She said suicide used to be “kept in the shadows,” but the foundation is working to help eliminate the stigma.

“We’ve changed the perception of suicide.”

Among its activities, the foundation has created Survivors of Suicide (SOS), a grief support group that meets monthly, providing a setting for individuals to ask questions and find support from others in similar situations. “We create an opportunity for positive dialogue,” she said. “It is a good starting point for healing.”

The foundation has also partnered with other groups and has offered assistance to others beyond White County.

Alana is currently working with the Freedom Warriors Riding Association of Arkansas, a veterans advocacy group, in an effort to pool resources and provide information on depression and suicide at different events.

Last year, the foundation provided three days of intensive training on depression in the Searcy schools. Alana said afterward 25 students sought assistance. “Even if only one had reached out for help, it would have made it worth it,” she said. “That’s where my heart is.”

Twelve years after its creation, the foundation is continuing to grow and become more involved in helping others, according to Alana. As executive director, she most enjoys meeting all types of people through the foundation. “I love to meet new people.”

Alana points out that depression and suicide know no boundaries, affecting individuals young and older, male and female, from different backgrounds and walks of life. “Nothing is off limits.” She added that most families will be touched by suicide, and it is important to be educated about it.

“It’s an honor to be associated with something that provides hope and is changing the mindset about depression. It’s OK to ask for help. It’s just like any other illness.”

Alana hopes her work is making a difference through greater awareness. “My goal is to provide hope for people.”