News Article Details

EDITORIAL: Suicide prevention a fight for life

News-Journal - 9/11/2018

Sept. 11--There was a time when many American newspapers didn't report on most suicides, even to the point of obfuscating the cause of death in a standard obituary. The rationales included sparing a family shame and pain, or avoiding "copycat" deaths. But the discretion had an unrealized side effect: Many communities didn't realize how prevalent suicide was. And so they didn't take up arms to fight a killer that was sowing despair and anguish in the dark.

Leaders in Flagler and Volusia counties know silence is no longer an option. Volusia County has battled higher-than-normal suicide rates for decades. In 2017, Flagler County had the highest suicide rate in the state.

Flagler County officials are already looking for ways to fight back. The Flagler Lifeline Suicide Prevention Planning Committee has been making the rounds of local government meetings and gearing up for a community-wide campaign, The News-Journal's Shaun Ryan reports. The committee includes School Board Member Colleen Conklin; Lynne Shott, the Flagler School District's executive director of student and community engagement; and Carrie Baird, a seasoned community-services professional who now heads the nonprofit Flagler Cares.

[READ: Flagler group wants to stem tide of suicides]

[READ: Volusia County takes on high jail suicide rate -- too late for some]

The new organization has no funding. But it is armed with the facts and a determination to save lives. These are valuable resources.

Too many people still view suicide as something society is helpless to stop. They don't know the warning signs that could tip them off that a friend or family member is contemplating taking their own lives. Even worse, they don't believe there are warning signs -- that most people experiencing suicidal urges act "out of the blue." Even when they suspect a friend or loved one might be entertaining suicidal thoughts, they hesitate to ask questions or urge someone to seek help.

The reality is far different. Mental-health experts say the vast majority -- in some studies, up to 80 percent -- of people who commit suicide show clear warning signs before their deaths. Asking someone whether they need help, or whether they are contemplating self-harm, can pierce isolation and despair. Urging them to seek help, or even helping them find it, might provide a lifeline out of darkness.

There's still a long way to go. In Flagler County's recent community health survey, the top four issues residents were concerned about -- unemployment, addiction, homelessness and mental illness -- are all associated with a greater risk of suicide. Flagler County residents listed mental health treatment and counseling as the hardest health service to access.

The area does have resources, however. The Flagler County school system, which is partnering with Flagler Cares on the Flagler Lifeline suicide-prevention effort, plans to have a psychologist at every school this year. Through a partnership with Stewart-Marchman Act, the area's largest behavioral-services provider, the district will also have a substance-abuse counselor and two service coordinators for the district. Meanwhile, Volusia County schools plans to use $1.5 million in state funding to create "mental health response teams."

Meanwhile, Stewart-Marchman Act has received a $2 million grant from the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, aimed at suicide prevention through crisis services, jails and Veterans Administration services in Volusia, Flagler, Putnam and St. Johns counties, the News-Journal's Suzanne Hirt reports.

The focus on jails is crucial. Volusia County has seen 12 suicides in its correctional facilities since 2013, a problem the county is struggling to address.

Fighting to reduce an abnormally high suicide rate can be a difficult and disheartening task, and might not produce immediate results -- as Volusia County leaders have seen over the decades. But this is not a battle local officials can surrender -- not while lives are in the balance.


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