Trying to answer the question of why one commits suicide is akin to answering “How deep is deep?" It's fathomless to gauge, impossible to know with certainty.
At 5 p.m. Sept. 29, the Wyoming County Suicide Prevention Coalition will hold their 10th annual Suicide Prevention Awareness Walk. Each September, the coalition organizes and hosts a walk in downtown Warsaw for National Suicide Prevention Month. This year’s walk will begin and end at the Warsaw Vet’s Club Pavilion, 245 W. Buffalo St..
Thoughts or feelings of suicide can come “out of nowhere,” a result of a treatable mental health issue, or be caused by a traumatic event. Survivors of sexual assault are four times more likely to consider suicide, and an average of 22 veterans die by suicide every day. People who face discrimination for being lesbian, gay or bisexual have statistically amplified rates of suicide ideation, and transgender teens have an average attempt rate of 50 percent. Suicide is estimated as the 10th leading cause of death nationwide, and the third leading cause of death for those 15-24 years old.
Wyoming County has the highest rate of completed suicides per capita in New York State, according to the 2008-11 Census Bureau data.
Suicide can be a despairing topic because of its finality. Once someone dies by suicide, all that remains are the grieving friends, family and community, plagued by a sense of emptiness that many feel will never be whole again. Although there is no one solution, the single most effective way to combat suicide is to work preemptively through proactive prevention.
Formed in 2006, the coalition’s mission is to reduce the number of suicides in the county. Their hope is that by spreading the mission of promoting awareness of the problem, educating the community on warning signs, and where to go for help, people contemplating their own demise may seek help.
“When someone is feeling suicidal or overwhelmed with what’s going on..when they are exploring that option (suicide), they aren’t always thinking rationally,” said Lauren Berger, outreach education specialist for RESTORE. “But being connected with an email list or counselor...they often make the choice to reach out. Someone may be able to help them de-escalate the situation. The real powerful message is that they are not alone.”
RESTORE Sexual Assault Services is program of Planned Parenthood of Central and Western New York. It leads the community response to sexual violence through advocacy and education. Providing safety, support and validation, it changes the lives of those affected by sexual assault. Trained counselors are available 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week to provide information and support.
Prevention officials say, stripping away the antiquated shame associated with those suffering with a mental illness is just one step toward opening up honest and frank dialogue about a difficult topic.
“The Siri voice command on a phone... If you say to it you are ‘feeling suicidal’ it will offer a number to call. When Siri first came out and you said anything with the word “suicide” in it, it would offer other suggestions. It was only recently that Siri changed its answer.
“Even using the autocorrect function on a phone,” Berger said. “If suicide is not spelled exactly as it should be, it offers different words. Even the phone doesn't want to talk about it.
“There is a myth that if you talk about it you will be encouraging someone to do it. People who have these thoughts wouldn't be encouraged. But when you're not afraid to shy away from theses words it makes it more open for discussion. It drives home the seriousness of the actual act and opens up a dialogue.”
People typically shy aware from the topic of suicide, or mental illness of any sort, because some people don’t want to admit they have a problem. Open discussion on mental illness may make it easier for those who need to reach out, be able to reach out. They may not feel so isolated; get rid of the feeling that there’s no where to turn because “we don’t talk about it.”
“One in five people struggle with mental illness, but social perceptions weren’t created overnight. Overcoming them will not be an immediate process. Historically, things were done in an inhumane way.”
There is a whole package when dealing with health; not just physical, but emotional and mental health as well. Just like you need the proper nutrients and exercise for your physical body to function well, having the tools to cope with emotional and mental stress is huge.
“Statistically, how much is counted when dealing with overdoses or accidents that may have been semi-intentional? The risk of suicide is higher for middle-aged, retired men. They could be facing hardships from the Ag industry; many are factory workers; they are nearing retirement age and feeling less productive. There are so many reasons. But there is also a greater chance of someone completing the task in a rural area because they may have more access to the means (firearms).”
The second highest age range for completed suicides in Wyoming County is 72 and older.
While there may be greater mental health resources available in a more urban area, Wyoming County is not without its assets:
• Suicide Prevention Coalition has a website and Facebook page;
• A crisis line is available: National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-TALK (8255);
• Wyoming County Community Hospital Behavioral Health Center;
• Wyoming County Mental Health Department;
• Project Semicolon Campaign;
• Suicide Prevention App;
• Mobile Integration Team (MIT); and
• 2-1-1 helpline.
“How to help? Know what's going on in the community, share information about suicide, do the 22 push-up challenge – 22 push-ups for 22 days to raise awareness about veteran suicides... Become part of a coalition, and go from there.
“We want people to have the safety and security to ask, ‘Are you OK?’; for those suffering to have the courage to ask for help. If you are connected and want to talk to a counselor, the resources are readily available. You may have the experience (talking with a counselor) that it’s not awful...but beneficial.”
It could be anyone, anywhere that can help save a person's life, just by being aware. While you may never see the impact – of a smile, a kind word or gesture – know that your kindness may have forestalled a suicide.
“We live in a world where people are so consumed in their own lives. But when the step of kindness is taken... You'd be surprised at the impact it can have.”
And it’s free; free to be kind.
There will be a free chicken barbecue dinner after the walk, from Decisions Catering, sponsored by Spectrum Human Services and the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo. Dinners will be given out on a first-come, first-served basis.
The county first established a task force for suicide prevention in 2006, which quickly grew and became the Wyoming County Suicide Prevention Coalition, comprised of community members, survivors of suicide, and human service professionals. The coalition meets at 11 a.m. on the first Tuesday of each month at the Hillside Children’s Center, West Buffalo Street, Warsaw. More information is available at wycosuicideprevention.com.