Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the nation. Unlike some other leading causes, suicide is indiscriminate and—most important—preventable.
Nationally, suicide rates have increased steadily over the past two decades. Locally, Herkimer County has experienced the effects of this public health crisis, with an overall suicide rate of 15.3 per 100,000 people—nearly double the statewide average. There has also been a significant rise in suicides among older adults in Herkimer County; the incidence rate among seniors over age 85 is 56 per 100,000 people—more than five times the state average.
In response, Catholic Charities of Herkimer County worked in collaboration with the already established and county-led Herkimer County Suicide Prevention Coalition to create the Herkimer County Suicide Prevention Program. The program seeks to raise awareness of suicide prevention and promote emotional wellness through education, training and resource development. Its efforts have a threefold focus: there are ways around suicide, ways to talk about the topic, and ways to intervene when appropriate.
In 2018, The Community Foundation provided $76,500 in startup funding for the program, allowing for the addition of a full-time suicide prevention services coordinator.
“The fact of the matter is, suicide is preventable, and lives can be saved,” said Michele Curtin, suicide prevention services coordinator. “With community education and awareness of suicide prevention and resources, it is possible to reduce suicide rates. There are many warning signs and risk factors, as well as resources available to help that many people aren’t aware of.”
The evidence-based program is taking a proactive and modern approach to educating and training on the topic of suicide by involving law enforcement, healthcare providers, schools and parents. A recent event, “Ryan’s Story,” at Herkimer Jr. / Sr. High School gave students and parents the opportunity to hear one father’s story about his son’s suicide. The presentation helped spark conversation around critical topics, such as bullying, cyberbullying and social media.
To combat suicide rates among older adults, steps have been taken to implement a standardized survey to collect and analyze local data on the needs of rural senior residents. Through coalition efforts, funding has been secured and awarded to complete identified projects with a three-year suicide prevention grant from the Suicide Prevention Center of New York State.
Planned strategies include continued student-level prevention tasks, meetings and creation of “postvention” team training, to reduce risk and promote healing for families after a suicide death.
Catholic Charities of Herkimer County, in conjunction with the Herkimer County Suicide Prevention Coalition, is committed to suicide prevention efforts for the long term, an effort that will involve continued education, monitoring and data collection in pursuit of measurable outcomes. Program partners are hopeful that suicide rates and other indicators will move in a more positive direction and, with data in hand, they will be able to make well-informed decisions on what the next steps for the program will be in the years to come.