The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

March 15, 2013

Ashtabula County suicide stats down in 2012

Star Beacon

ASHTABULA TOWNSHIP — The number of suicides committed in Ashtabula County last year decreased by 50 percent compared to 2011, but the county’s rate of roughly 15 per 100,000 remains high.

Miriam Walton, executive director of the Ashtabula County Mental Health and Recovery Board, said 15 persons took their own lives in 2012, compared to 23 in 2011.

The 2011 spike in suicides drove several initiatives to address the crisis, including a gatekeeper seminar for clergy and formation of a LOSS team, a group of volunteers who provide support to the family immediately after notification by the coroner. The team began offering the service in September and has responded to at least two cases.

“The team has been working the way it was supposed to,” Walton said. “The coroner’s office called and the team was able to get there relatively quickly. They supported the family and left information and phone numbers. So far, all of the families have followed up (on the information). It’s worked out very nicely.”

One of the reasons for forming a LOSS team is that a risk factor for suicide is having a family member who died that way. By providing the family with information and resources, the county’s Suicide Prevention Coalition hopes to address that element while involving surviving family members as volunteers on the teams.

The coalition encompasses representatives from mental health services, health departments and substance abuse and social services agencies. Walton said the coalition goes after small foundation grants that can be used for education and prevention programs.

One of those programs, Kognito, is an online training resource for educators and support staff. During March and April, the coalition is encouraging competition between A-Tech and the county’s seven high schools to get the largest number of staff trained on Cognito. Grant money will be used to purchase the prizes and gift cards offered as incentives for the top three schools.

“We would love 100 percent participation,” Walton said. That’s not an unrealistic goal because under Ohio House Bill 543, school staff must receive at least one hour of training in suicide prevention, as well as one hour each in several other mental-health related topics.

“The high school principals that we have talked to are all very supportive of this,” Walton said. “The schools have always been good to work with.”

Walton said the coalition also plans to have a gatekeeper session for the general public by early summer. The group also wants to use a $1,000 grant it received to do a gate keeper program for veterans at risk for suicide.

“Veterans may say that they don’t have a problem, but they are always looking out for their buddies,” she said. The grant would provide training for those who have contact with veterans.

As to why the 15 persons who died at their own hands were driven to that point, Walton said it is usually a combination of events topped off by the loss of a fundamental relationship.

“The final incident is usually relationship driven,” she said. A person may weather the loss of a job without considering suicide, if foreclosure and divorce eventually result from that job loss, the divorce can be the “last piece of it” that tips the scales of his life into hopelessness.

Walton said suicide remains a means of death that is dominated by males; in 2012, 12 of the 15 suicides were male.

Walton said the 2012 statistics reveal a disturbing trend among women who attempt to kill themselves — they are turning to firearms, a means typically employed by men. Last year, a gun was involved in each one of the three female suicides.

“It used to be women used a drug overdose or cutting,” she said. “That has changed; women are starting to use more lethal means.”