On Jan. 26, a group of concerned citizens met to begin the process of organizing a suicide prevention coalition for Washington County. Carolyn Givens, a native of Washington County and the executive director of the Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation (OSPF), facilitated the organizational meeting. The group reviewed Ohio and Washington County suicide statistics and what the other 81 coalitions have done to address this public health issue in their counties.
The Washington County Mental Health and Addiction Recovery (MHAR) Board submitted a successful grant to the OSPF in October for this project. The MHAR Board will serve as the fiscal agent, but it must truly be a grassroots community effort with participation from not only mental health and other helping professionals, but also from businesses, schools, colleges and, perhaps most importantly, the private sector - individuals who have experienced the despair of suicidal thoughts or the suicidal attempt of loved ones.
Suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in the United States. Ninety percent of all suicides in the United States are associated with mental illness and/or addiction. Fifty percent of those who die by suicide were afflicted with major depression and the suicide rate of people with major depression is eight times that of the general population. Other risk factors include a past history of attempted suicide, a family history of psychiatric illness or suicidal attempts, and impulsivity. Males are three to five times more likely to die by suicide than females, although females attempt suicide three times more often than males.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), the signs of a suicide crisis, which is a time-limited occurrence signaling immediate danger of suicide, are:
A precipitating event - A recent event that is particularly distressing such as the loss of a loved one or career failure.
Intense affective state in addition to depression - Desperation, rage, psychic pain or tension, anxiety, guilt, hopelessness, or an acute sense of abandonment.
Changes in behavior - Changes in sleeping or eating habits, withdrawal, an unrelenting low mood, or pessimism.
Speech - Words indicating that the person is close to suicide. Such speech may be indirect; be alert to such statements as, "My family would be better off without me." Sometimes those persons contemplating suicide talk as if they were saying goodbye or going away.
Actions - Actions ranging from buying a gun to suddenly putting one's affairs in order to giving away prized possessions.
Deterioration in functioning - Diminished ability to function at work or socially, increasing use of alcohol or other self-destructive behavior, loss of control, explosions of rage.
The second organizational meeting of a suicide prevention coalition for Washington County will take place at 3 p.m. Feb. 17 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Marietta. The group must identify its priorities in terms of targeted population and suicide prevention activities or publications. The end product for the first year of this project will be a suicide prevention plan for Washington County. One of the first activities the coalition will offer is Gatekeeper Training developed and presented by Dr. Ellen Anderson, which teaches the warning signs of suicide and steps to be taken to reduce the risk. This training will be followed by several hours of technical assistance from Anderson regarding coalition development.
With drastic cuts in funding to the MHAR Board for behavioral health treatment, our county's system of behavioral health care has been reduced to little more than providing services to individuals with Medicaid coverage; the board is mandated to pay Medicaid match and that has swallowed any discretionary funds we once had to serve citizens without Medicaid coverage. We must all acknowledge the behavioral health care crisis in Washington County. It is a public health issue that we can and must address. There are several ways to become involved:
Become a part of the suicide prevention coalition for Washington County. If you cannot attend the meeting on February 17th, but would like to become involved and keep informed on the coalition's progress, please call me at 374-6990.
Write, call or email our legislators to urge them to restore mental health and recovery funding.
Apply to be a member of the Washington County Mental Health and Addiction Recovery Board. This is a volunteer position and we need several citizens of Washington County to fill vacant positions. Call 374-6990 to request an application.
Miriam Keith is consumer support coordinator of the Washington County Mental Health and Addiction Recovery Board. Mental Health Matters appears on the Opinion page on the first Saturday of each month.