More than 40 local mental health leaders launched the Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition at a day-long working meeting held in Ithaca Monday.
“It’s inspiring to see the breath of the organizations and individuals represented,” said Frank Kruppa, director of the Tompkins County Health Department. “It’s one of the things that makes Tompkins County special: when we have these types of issues, we are able to get folks in the room and talk about how we are going to tackle them.”
Deputy Commissioner of Mental Health Services Sharon MacDougall, the coalition’s organizer, said that the county seeks to foster greater collaboration in suicide prevention among the array of agencies and groups who deal with the issue.
“A coalition brings together all the experts that are in your county already,” she explained. “You have so many different perspectives, so many resources, so many different knowledge bases, and pulling them together gives you that focused lens on a community problem. We can help make that bigger effort to reducing suicide. If it is one death, it is one too many for Tompkins County. Zero suicide sounds like a lofty goal, but I think it has to be the goal.”
Garra Lloyd-Lester, associate director of the Suicide Prevention Center New York, briefed the participants on steps toward creating a successful suicide prevention coalition and presided over a Strengths-Weaknesses-Opportunities-Threats (SWOT) analysis.
“Things are off to a great start,” said Lloyd-Lester, who described the participants as “a diverse group of stakeholders, a cross section of people who are really invested in suicide prevention for the community.” But he warned that the coalition faced the critical challenge of sustaining momentum.
“At the meeting today, there was a lot of real energy, a lot of people all saying, ‘This is important work, we need to do it,’” Lloyd-Lester said. “How do you sustain that over the long haul? It’s a marathon, not a sprint. A coalition has to be built on more than just those individual champions. It’s got to be a culture, a way of doing things in the community. It takes recognition that no one entity can be responsible for suicide prevention in the community.”
Garra Lloyd-Lester, Suicide Prevention Center New York
Lee-Ellen Marvin, executive director of the Suicide Prevention and Crisis Service in Ithaca, told the gathering that while Tompkins County’s suicide rate last year was seven deaths per 100,000, the actual number of suicide deaths jumped from four in 2014 and five in 2015 to 11 in 2016. “We can’t be complacent about suicide loss,” she said.
Marvin, whose agency has spearheaded suicide prevention in the area since 1969 by staffing a crisis hotline, after-trauma services, and education programs, listed two goals she hoped the coalition would help advance. The first is better understanding of people at risk in certain communities and how to reach them—such as financially struggling young adults, middle-aged men, gun owners, drug users. The second is adoption of the Zero Suicide Initiative, a commitment to suicide prevention in health and behavioral health care systems.
“What we need to communicate is that there is hope, there is help, and that there is absolutely no shame in getting help,” she concluded.
Sharon MacDougall, Garra Lloyd-Lester, Lee-Ellen Marvin
Agencies and organizations represented at Monday’s meeting of the Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition included:
Suicide Prevention and Crisis Service in Ithaca
Mental Health Association in Tompkins County
Family & Children’s Service of Ithaca
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Finger Lakes
Care Compass Network
The Sophie Fund
Human Services Coalition
Alcohol & Drug Council of Tompkins County
Cayuga Addiction Recovery Services
Tompkins Community Action
Planned Parenthood Southern Finger Lakes
Franziska Racker Centers
Cayuga Medical Center
The Advocacy Center
Ithaca Free Clinic
Lakeview Mental Health Services
Ithaca College Office of Counseling and Wellness
Ithaca College Office of Public Safety and Emergency Management
Empire State College
Ithaca City School District
Groton Central School District
Tompkins County Legislature
Tompkins County Health Department
Tompkins County Mental Health Department
Tompkins County Office for the Aging
Tompkins County Youth Services Department
Tompkins County Department of Emergency Response
Suicide Prevention Center New York
Broome County Suicide Awareness for Families and Educators