County executive, commissioners of health and mental health join partners to raise awareness, promote resiliency, foster hopefulness
Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz was joined Tuesday by Erie County Health Commissioner Dr. Gale Burstein, Commissioner of Mental Health Michael Ranney, CEO of Crisis Services Jessica Pirro, Coordinator of the Suicide Prevention Coalition of Erie County Olivia Retallack, and concerned citizens in front of the Edward A. Rath county office building to spread a message of hope and proclaim "Suicide Prevention Week" in Erie County.
Suicide is the 10th-leading cause of death among adults and second-leading cause of death among people aged 10-14 years. At the event, Poloncarz joined county partners in raising a yellow flag as a symbol of hope against this public health crisis.
"Today, we are uniting our voices in support of families and individuals in our community whose lives have been touched by suicide and informing family members to watch for the signs that may signal that a suicide attempt is imminent," he said. "Together with our partners, we can help to ease the pain, provide hope and support, and bring people back to our community family. We are committed to ending the scourge of suicide in Erie County and, by working together, we can remove the stigma associated with suicide and help to foster and instill positive, healthy attitudes."
"Awareness of the issues surrounding suicide is critical," Ranney said. "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. We need to continue to work together to raise awareness surrounding suicide prevention. As we raise this flag of hope, we must remember the lives lost in our community and our commitment to stop suicide."
In 2014, the highest suicide rate (19.3 percent) occurred among people aged 85 years or older, with the second-highest rate (19.2 percent) 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. Youth identifying themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or questioning are four times more likely than their straight peers to commit suicide.
"Suicide is a serious public health problem that affects people of all ages," Burstein said. "Many people are uncomfortable talking about suicide. Thus, an important public health problem is left hidden in secrecy, which hinders effective prevention. Too often, victims are blamed and their families and friends are left stigmatized. That is why today we are coming together to raise awareness."
"Every day, our crisis first responders talk to individuals thinking about suicide," Pirro said. "We understand that, when people think of suicide, they that do not want to die, but just want to stop the pain. It is critical that our community knows that they are never alone and there is help. Crisis Services is your 24-hour lifeline to help ease the pain, find hope and prevent an irreversible decision from happening. I proudly stand with our multidisciplinary partners in Erie County to let every resident know that there is hope and strength in seeking help."
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; and Sigrid Pechenik, the associate director of the state suicide prevention office.
World Suicide Prevention Day is observed on Saturday, Sept. 10. The Suicide Prevention Coalition of Erie County was created in 2012 as a group of community stakeholders from various professional backgrounds, including substance abuse experts, prevention educators and advocates from the health and mental health fields, to bring awareness and training to the community to recognize the warning signs of potentially suicidal behavior and help individuals experiencing such thoughts. The coalition also works to facilitate better access to resources for those experiencing suicidal thoughts or feelings.
"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. "We need to work together as a community to break the stigma around talking about suicide and to know that, in order to save the lives of our friends and loved ones, we need to talk openly and directly about suicide. The coalition is honored to join together for this historic event as we continue to bring hope around this public health crisis. Suicide is everyone's business and, together, we can save lives."
For more information on the Erie County Department of Mental Health, visit http://www2.erie.gov/mentalhealth/; on the Erie County Department of Health, visit http://www2.erie.gov/health/; on Crisis Services, visit http://crisisservices.org/; and on the Suicide Prevention Coalition of Erie County, visit http://suicidepreventionecny.org/.