Suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in the United States and the American Association of Suicidology estimates that there are 25 attempts for every death by suicide.
A conversation with Dr. Kenneth Leopold, Washington County coroner, yielded the information that there have been six suicides in Washington County since January 2011. Dr. Leopold cautioned that there are additional incidences, such as fatal overdoses and some traffic fatalities, that may be suspect but cannot be conclusively ruled a suicide.
In October of 2010 the Washington County Mental Health and Addiction Recovery Board submitted a successful grant to the Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation for the purpose of developing a suicide prevention coalition for Washington County. The developmental phase began in late January of 2011 when community members began meeting at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Marietta. Chairperson Teresa Collins and Vice-chairperson Dr. Harry Coffey ably led the coalition in identifying the coalition's mission and goals, which are to increase awareness of suicide and preventative measures and to reduce suicides in our county.
The Suicide Prevention Coalition of Washington County has realized several accomplishments in its six-month developmental phase, among them:
Provided a free Gatekeeper training to community members. A gatekeeper is any person in the community who may have contact with an individual at risk for suicide, from first responders, hospital staff, mental health personnel and teachers to bankers, beauticians and bartenders. The training, developed and presented by Dr. Ellen Anderson, provides valuable information about the warning signs of suicide and the most effective responses to reduce the risk.
Trained five coalition members to provide Gatekeeper training to the Washington County community. As the ongoing provision of Gatekeeper trainings from an outside entity is cost prohibitive, having coalition members who can provide this education is paramount. These trainers are volunteers with other jobs, and thus the training will be available on a limited basis that will be determined by assessing interest, need and the availability of the trainers.
Trained support group facilitators. The loss of a loved one by suicide is intensely painful. The grief process is highly individual and unique with no given duration. Survivors do not seek "closure," as life will never be the same as before; survivors aim to adjust to life without their loved one while negotiating a myriad of emotions, including shock, disbelief, despair, abandonment, guilt, loneliness, anxiety and extreme sadness. Those who have not experienced such a loss can be of some help, but having the support of others who have survived a suicide loss yields inestimable worth. Two members of the coalition who are also survivors of suicide loss were trained to facilitate the Survivors of Suicide Loss Support Group, which meets on the first Tuesday of each month at 7 p.m. at St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Marietta. For more information, contact Ken Kupsche at (304) 615-6244 or LeeAnn Price at (740) 984-2881.
Developed information and referral resources. The coalition has developed several information and referral publications and will provide them upon request and at fairs and other public events. The publications provide information about the warning signs of suicide, how to respond most effectively and how and where to get help.
The Suicide Prevention Coalition of Washington County is very appreciative of the time, financial resources and other support offered by Washington County citizens during the past six months. If you like to become a part of the coalition or for more information, contact the Washington County Mental Health and Addiction Recovery Board at (740) 374-6990. The coalition meets the third Thursday of each month at 4 p.m. at St. Luke's Lutheran Church in Marietta. Each of us can make a difference in addressing this serious public health problem in Washington County.
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.