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2018-06-13 / Front Page

Silent Epidemic: Mental Health and Suicide Touches Many in Delaware County

By Rosie Cunningham

DELAWARE COUNTY - Delaware County has the third highest suicide rate in the state.

According to Rene Stratton, program coordinator for Delaware County Public Health and the chairman of the Suicide Prevention Network of Delaware County (SPNDC), per 100,000, 17.2 individuals are lost to suicide. This figure is right behind Essex and Hamilton counties at 17.9. Nationally, suicide rates increased by 25 percent over nearly two decades ending in 2016, according to research published Thursday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Twenty-five states experienced a rise in suicides by more than 30 percent, the government report finds. In 2016 alone, 45,000 lives were lost to suicide.

More than half of those who died by suicide had not been diagnosed with a mental health condition, said Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the CDC.

The recent suicides of prominent celebrities such as chef Anthony Bourdain and designer Kate Spade has catapulted the issue of mental health into the forefront.

“When individuals see that celebrities who seem to have it all are taking their lives, it seems hopeless,” said Stratton.

However, she said mental health issues are not uncommon and she believes “conversations” need to take place regarding the matter.

“There is a stigma regarding mental health which gets lumped into the term ‘crazy’ and that needs to stop,” she said. “We pay attention to when we are sick with a cold, but ignore when our brain is sick.”

Stratton said locally, schools and the communities have come a long way in regards to suicide awareness.

“Schools are participating and officials are becoming involved,” she said. “Three years ago, many schools did not want to discuss the matters of suicide and mental health.”

Every two weeks the SPNDC releases information or individuals locally who talk about suicide.

Emily Taggart of O’Connor Hospital, Jason Thompson of Delaware Academy and Maureen Burton of Roxbury Central Schools all define what “being there” means when supporting those in need around them.

Stratton said she believes some of the reasons for Delaware County being the third highest county in the state for suicide is due to isolation and individuals do not have access to services which would be helpful.

SPNDC created a presentation in May for National Mental Health Month. The presentation/ Public Service Announcement was funded by the NYS Center for Suicide Prevention, the O’Connor Foundation and Rural Alliance.

In the presentation, Stratton pointed out that from 2011 to 2016, an average of nine people have committed suicide each year in Delaware County - mostly men between 39 and 54 years old.

The organization focused on the elderly, veterans, officers and farmers due to high stress occupations and as for the elderly - isolation.

“There is a concern with them not wanting to be a burden,” Stratton said, adding that middle age males are less likely to go to the doctor or talk to someone about mental health problems.

Stratton emphasized the importance of asking the question “Are you suicidal?”

“Even if it is uncomfortable, that question needs to be asked,” she said. “You could save a life.”

Stratton said there are many great resources in the county that individuals should be aware of.

“We have a great mental health clinic in Walton and we have MCAT (Mobil Crisis Action Team) available 24 hours a day,” she said. “A friend or loved one can call our counselor to do an evaluation. In some cases, it may not be a crisis and in others, we can get the person who needs help to a crisis center. Terri Korba is our coordinator and she is fabulous.”

The SPNDC has a Facebook page which details how to identify when an individual is suffering and what he or she could do to help save a life.

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced on June 8 that New York will be the first state in the nation to launch an innovative pilot program aimed at reducing new suicide attempts among individuals who had previously attempted suicide. Funded through the $3.5 million federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration grant, the Attempted Suicide Short Intervention Program re-frames how suicide attempts are examined in order to develop individualized prevention strategies.

In addition to the pilot program, the New York State Office of Mental Health is launching a new social media campaign to help connect people to suicide prevention resources. The campaign will also provide insights on how to recognize when someone might be experiencing a suicidal crisis and the steps you can take to help them through their crisis.

“I think this is great,” said Stratton, who added that social media truly is a problem in regards to mental health and suicide. “I am 61 and if I got bullied in school, I came home and at least that was my safe haven. Today, kids come home and the bullying continues. There was a case where a kid was bullied on social media and it was reported, but not to the parents and now, there is an initiative that it must be reported to both the bully’s parents and the victim’s parents.”

She added that she is concerned with the level of details that were released in the deaths of Bourdain and Spade.

“It can create a contagion and others could mimic the actions,” she said.

Stratton said depression and anxiety are highly treatable and added that it is important to focus on coping skills for individuals.

“When it gets to hard and coping seems impossible, that is when the high risk of suicide really kicks in,” she said. “I do think there should be more support groups for those who have thought of suicide, or have attempted it, or for friends or family members who have had an individual take their life.”

Stratton added that in regards to children, do not take what seems like adolescent drama lightly.

“If a girl or boy gets broken up with or have a life event that makes them depressed, don’t take it lightly,” she said. “We know it will pass, but in that moment, that is their world and it is devastating.”

Stratton said SPNDC works closely with the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Council of Delaware County (ADAC).

“Suicide is very tightly related to drug abuse,” she said. “ADAC has a great program and is very in tune with suicide locally and nationally.”

The SPNDC has a wide variety of resources that can also be of assistance for loss survivors. For more information go to: www.delawarecountypublichealth.com or visit the SPNDC Facebook page.

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