MOUNT VERNON — Community members who stepped up earlier this year to take on the challenge of seeking answers to some complicated questions through the formation of the Knox County Suicide Prevention Coalition, have met regularly to begin discussion of the issue.
Representatives, including public health officials, mental health providers, first responders, home health care workers, educators, social workers and interested community members, have come to the table to discuss the recent countywide rise in suicides and suicide attempts.
The group was formed this past spring as a subcommittee of the Knox County Wellness Coalition, after a spike in the number of unconfirmed suicides in the county during late 2008 and early 2009 was noticed.
At the coalition’s last meeting, Lynne Agapi-Gilligan, executive director of Moundbuilders Guidance Center, confirmed the apparent increase in the number of people struggling with suicidal issues has continued into the latter part of this year.
“It’s continuing, it’s significant, it exists, and it’s affecting our resources in the community,” Agapi-Gilligan told the coalition members. “What we’re trying to do is get our arms around who this is impacting and how do we as service providers better react.”
Mike Cronin, emergency medical services coordinator for the Mount Vernon Fire Department, said although hard numbers may be difficult to report at this point, the first responders called to the scene have noticed a definite increase in the number of suicide attempt calls they receive.
“Runs are definitely up and there have been a number of people in crisis since the first of the year,” Cronin told his fellow coalition members. “The number of attempted suicides and overdose calls have definitely been up.”
Kristin McCloud, executive director of Pathways of Central Ohio, which operates the 2-1-1 Crisis Hotline and Information Center in Knox and Licking counties, said the number of callers to 2-1-1 who threaten suicide has increased over the past year.
McCloud said it is impossible to determine how much increased publicity of the 2-1-1 line in the past year has affected the increase in calls, but said the number of callers threatening suicide has risen significantly.
Although all agree the number of people in crisis has risen, the reasons behind the increase remain unclear. McCloud said callers to 2-1-1 often cite money worries as a reason they find themselves in crisis.
“Financial problems is a big one right now,” McCloud said. “There are a lot of people going through that right now who have never experienced anything like it before.”
Because death investigations can take several months to complete and rule as suicide, exact figures for the number of suicides in recent months may not be available for some time. The coalition members say that rather than wait for those figures, they are forming a plan to address the crisis now, even as the death investigations into several suspected suicides continue.
Coalition member Kathy Wantland of Hospice of Knox County shared with the group news of a speaker with expertise in suicide prevention who will be in Knox County for a speaking tour next year.
The group is also working on a publicity campaign, distributing educational pamphlets with phone numbers and referrals for people facing crisis.
Deb Whitmore of the Mount Vernon City Schools said children are not being overlooked as the coalition makes plans to address the suicide problem countywide. Whitmore said she has seen middle school and elementary-aged children struggling with anxiety and depression throughout her career. Strategies to help children access mental health services will be part of the coalition’s mission.
Access to services and education to help remove the stigma that often is attached to seeking help for depression are large parts of the focus the group would like to address in coming months.
“We’re trying to look to join together to help people,” Cronin said. “We want to improve the way we help people.”
“The community should know that we notice; that the problems are diverse and affect everyone from kids to the elderly,” said Stephanie Taddeo of the Visiting Nurse Association.
“We are starting to come up with a plan to help them access resources,” Taddeo said. “We are experiencing this with them, and we are definitely experiencing it more often.”
Agapi-Gilligan said the group is determined to make seeking and getting help easier for people overwhelmed by crisis.
“People need to be able to know where to get help when something like this faces them,” she said. “This is a problem in this community, and it needs to be addressed head-on.”