October 22, 2021

Agencies put focus on data to curb suicides

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Patricia Schapp has seen what suicide can do to loved ones.

Now she wants people to speak up about their struggles and know they have support.

“It is OK to not be OK,” said Patricia Schapp, director of youth development services for Cortland County.

“Please speak up and ask for help. Be the voice for someone that may be struggling.”

Cortland County reported about 14 deaths by suicide per 100,000 residents from 2015 to 2017, nearly double the state rate of 8.4 per 100,000.

In 2019, Cortland County’s Community Services Board partnered with Cortland Prevention Resources, a division of Family and Children’s Counseling Services, to develop SPEAK UP Cortland, a suicide prevention coalition.

That year, 47,511 Americans died by suicide, reports the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The World Health Organization reports more than 700,000 people died by suicide every year — more than one person every 40 seconds.

“This has turned into a passion of mine, as I have known a few individuals that have died by suicide — in fact, most people do,” said Schapp, co-chair of SPEAK UP Cortland. “It is the coalition’s goal to raise awareness and provide free education to the public on how to have the conversation, and what to do when someone has thoughts of suicide.”

By looking at local population level data, the coalition can determine high-risk populations and risk factors, said Margaret Broderick, a member of SPEAK UP Cortland and an epidemiologist with Cortland Area Communities That Care.

“One focus area of the coalition is reducing the percentage of youth in seventh to 12th grade attempting suicide and experiencing suicide ideation,” Broderick said.

A 2020 survey of 1,871 Cortland County seventh through 12th graders found 22.6% reported suicidal thoughts in the past year; 8% reported attempting suicide.

LGBT students were six times more likely to report attempting suicide than straight students, Broderick said, and transgender students were three times more likely than cisgender students to report attempting suicide in the past year.

Resources and hotlines

  • Cortland County Crisis Hotline: 607-756-3771
  • National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 800-273-8255
  • National Crisis Text Line: Text ‘got5’ to 741-741
  • The Trevor Project Hotline: 866-488-7386, or Text ‘Start’ to 678-678
  • The National Trans Lifeline: 877-565-8860

Other help

  • To see a video by Cortland police and SPEAK UP Cortland, go to ensemble.cnyric.org/Watch/m6X5StFb.
  • Free gun locks are available at the Cortland Police Department.

SPEAK UP Cortland’s wants to raise awareness for suicide prevention efforts, support drug take-back events and offer a survey to measure suicide awareness.

The coalition also plans to implement prevention programs for people applying for hunter safety courses and gun clubs. From 2009-18, 79% of suicide deaths in Cortland County were men, the CDC reports, and guns were the most common method of suicide in Cortland County.

SPEAK UP Cortland worked with the Cortland Police Department to create a public service announcement on firearm safety, Schapp said. “If you own a firearm, please make sure they are locked up and stored safely. Putting time and distance in place can save a life.”

Police answer calls for mental health crises and suicide attempts frequently, said Cortland Deputy Chief David Guerrera, who oversees the Crisis Intervention Team, formally known as the Emotionally Disturbed Persons Response Team.

“The main goal is not just to prevent suicide, but also to prevent officers from going on repetitive calls,” Guerrera said. “If we can get people connected to resources, then they’re less likely to be in crisis and more likely to get help.”

“And it’s not just the officers,“ Guerrera said. “Yes, we’re answering these calls 24 hours a day because the mental health department and Family Counseling Services can’t do that. But every call we go on, I review the reports and send them over to our Single Point of Access coordinator.”

Everybody handles stress differently, Guerrera said.

“You need to be able to talk to people — you can’t hold it in,” he said. “If you’re having these thoughts, you can’t keep them to yourself. If you’re getting to the point where you’re contemplating suicide or harming yourself, or you just want to stop that pain, then call 911 or call 211. You don’t have to deal with it on your own.”