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Erie County suicides actually dropped during the pandemic. Advocates will discuss why Wednesday

WBFO file photo

While the COVID-19 pandemic presented a serious challenge to the mental well-being of countless Western New Yorkers, mental health experts and advocates say suicide rates in Erie County actually declined over a two-year period.

Wednesday morning, the Suicide Prevention Coalition of Erie County will discuss the trend as part of its annual meeting, being held online.

“Emotional health issues, actually, were up for all age groups. The good thing, though, is it seems that the mental health community and our partners have all intervened to try to not just let those mental health issues rest, but to intervene and get people help to help that they needed,” said Dr. Celia Spacone, coordinator of the Coalition.

Erie County Health Commissioner Mark O’Brien credits a robust provider system and community education for helping lower suicide rates.

“The idea that depression and anxiety and other forms of mental illness are something to be shunted, not talked about - the stigma is, I wouldn't say shattered. But I think there has been a light shown here that, you know, mental health concerns can hit anybody,” he said.

He also credits an increased willingness by professional athletes and celebrities to admit mental health struggles with raising awareness that anyone can be affected.

While mental health advocates are pleased by the downward trend, they say one suicide remains one too many.

“The fight isn't over. But this tells us that there is hope that some of the strategies and interventions that have been developed and that we are implementing with people, doing tremendous efforts, are working. And that's so encouraging,” Spacone said. “That tells us you know that we can continue with these efforts over the next year, and hopefully see this gain sustained.”

Registration to view the meeting is free.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.