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Suicide Prevention Week is time to talk, not stigmatize

WBFO News photos by Eileen Buckley

Erie County mental health officials say suicide is the 10th leading cause of death among adults and 2nd leading cause of death among people aged 10-14 years. As uncomfortable the topic may make some people, they said talking about the issue is the first step necessary to prevent more lives lost. 

Crisis Services CEO Jessica Pirro said her first responders talk to individuals thinking about suicide every day.

"We understand that when people think of suicide, they that do not want to die but just want to stop the pain,” said Pirro. “It is critical that our community knows that they are never alone and there is help."

Crisis Services is a 24-hour call-in service that provides hope and strength in seeking help. Officials proclaimed "Suicide Prevention Week" by raising a yellow flag at the Rath Building as a symbol of hope against what they called a public health crisis.

“Awareness of the issues surrounding suicide is critical, said Erie County Mental Health Commissioner Michael Ranney. "With more than 40,000 Americans dying each year by suicide, providers in the health and behavioral health system must work together to identify and assist those at risk of suicide to get proper mental health care. With good screening and interventions we can make a difference in people’s lives."

Ranney said the yellow flag of hope was raised in remembrance of the lives lost in our community and their commitment to stop suicide.

Suicide Prevention Coalition of Erie County Coordinator Olivia Retallack said suicide is a complex and multifaceted issue.

"There is no one cause to suicide, but rather is caused by a combination of biological, social and psychological factors," Retallack said.

The coalition was created in 2012 as a group of community stakeholders from various professional backgrounds, including substance abuse experts, prevention educators and advocates to promote awareness and training to recognize the warning signs of potentially suicidal behavior and help individuals experiencing such thoughts.

“Many people are uncomfortable talking about suicide. Thus, an important public health problem is left hidden in secrecy, which hinders effective prevention," said Erie County Health Commissioner Gale Burstein. "Too often, victims are blamed and their families and friends are left stigmatized. That is why today we are coming together to raise awareness.”

Jamey Rodemeyer's YouTube message
Credit Photo from YouTube
Williamsville North High School freshman Jamey Rodemeyer was found dead in 2011 of an apparent suicide by hanging. His death prompted a national effort against homophobic bullying.

In 2014, they said the highest suicide rate (19.3%) occurred among people aged 85 years or older, with the second-highest rate (19.2%) occurring among the 45-64 year old age group. Younger groups have had consistently lower suicide rates than middle-aged and older adults. However, the prevalence of suicidal thoughts, planning and attempts is significantly higher among young adults aged 18-29 years, while youth identifying themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning are four times more likely than their straight peers to commit suicide.

Also attending the flag-raising event were Lisa Boehringer, herself a survivor of suicide loss and now serving as a Board Member of the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention. World Suicide Prevention Day is observed on September 10.