National Suicide Prevention Month may be ending on September 30, but the need to support people experiencing a mental health crisis is more urgent than ever.
After a dip in 2019 and 2020, the suicide rate in the United States increased nearly 4 percent in 2021—47,646 deaths, up from 45,979 in 2020, according to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. The rate for people age 15-24 rose 7 percent. Overall suicide rates have risen more than 30 percent in the past two decades.
Some good news: Seeking help became easier in 2020, with the introduction of the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. 988 has been designated as a new three-digit dialing code, similar to the simple-to-remember public safety hotline number 911.
The Lifeline provides free and confidential support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, seven days a week, across the United States. You can also connect to the Lifeline if you are concerned about a loved one, friend, or colleague.
988 calls go to into a nearby crisis center, one of 200 across the country. When people call or text 988, or connect to chat online, they will be connected to trained counselors that are part of the Lifeline network. Trained counselors listen, understand how the caller’s problems are affecting them, provide support, and connect them to resources if necessary.
NOTE: The previous Lifeline phone number (1-800-273-8255) will always remain available to people in emotional distress or suicidal crisis.
The Lifeline has been proven to be effective. According to its administrator, numerous studies have shown that callers feel less suicidal, less depressed, less overwhelmed, and more hopeful after speaking with a Lifeline counselor. Calls to the Lifeline have soared 45 percent since 988 was introduced in July.
The Lifeline is funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and administered by Vibrant Emotional Health.
Warning Signs for Suicide
Take a moment to review the warning signs for suicide, as provided by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). Be sure to get help for yourself or others if you see the signs. You may save a life.
According to AFSP, something to look out for when concerned that a person may be suicidal is a change in behavior or the presence of entirely new behaviors. This is of sharpest concern if the new or changed behavior is related to a painful event, loss, or change. Most people who take their lives exhibit one or more warning signs, either through what they say or what they do.
Warning sign: Talk
If a person talks about:
Having no reason to live
Being a burden to others
Warning sign: Behavior
Behaviors that may signal risk, especially if related to a painful event, loss or change:
Increased use of alcohol or drugs
Looking for a way to end their lives, such as searching online for methods
Withdrawing from activities
Isolating from family and friends
Sleeping too much or too little
Visiting or calling people to say goodbye
Giving away prized possessions
Warning sign: Mood
People who are considering suicide often display one or more of the following moods:
Some 300 participants raised more than $60,000 in the 10th Annual Greater Ithaca Out of the Darkness Walk on September 10 organized by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Greater Central New York Chapter.
Ithaca Out of the Darkness Walk at Myers Park
The walk, which took place in Myers Park in Lansing on the edge of Cayuga Lake, is among 400 or so held across the country every year designed to raise awareness and collect funds for research, training, and programming. The walkers included many people who lost a loved one, friend, or colleague to suicide.
This year’s Greater Ithaca walk was held on World Suicide Prevention Day. September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. The event surpassed the chapter’s $55,000 goal by more than $5,000.
“Suicide is preventable, and suicide prevention begins with all of us,” event Co-Chair Crystal Howser said in remarks at the event.
“By showing up today, you are sending the message that mental health is as real as physical health,” she added. “You are sending the message that reaching out for help is the strong thing to do. You are showing others that suicide can no longer be swept under the rug.
“By showing up, you let others know they are not alone. Because of you, we can fight for a day when no one will die by suicide.”
Event Co-Chairs Crystal Howser and Amber Parker
Howser shared that she began her journey after losing her father to suicide in 1998, and has lost other loved ones since then.
“These are just a few of the reasons I will continue to fight, to give a voice to those that may have lost their own, to help those that have lost a loved one heal, and bring hope to each and every person I meet along the way,” Howser said.
She said that the walkers honored the memory of those lost to suicide. “I also want to acknowledge those of you who have suffered personally from suicidal thoughts,” she added. “We are so glad to have you here with us in this fight. Your presence and openness allow others to know they are not alone in their struggle.”
This year’s walk included teams from Maguire Automotive, Alpha Gamma Rho at Cornell University, Ithaca College Women’s Lacrosse, SVNTA National Honor Society, CrossFit Vertical, among others.
The walk was sponsored by:
CFCU Community Credit Union; The Strebel Planning Group’s Strebel Fund for Community Enrichment; Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service; Maguire Automotive; BorgWarner Inc.; Northeast Pizza and Bones; Ithaca Apartment Management/Solomon Organization LLC; Moore Family Farm; Cayuga Medical Center; Visions Federal Credit Union; Lansing Funeral Home; Cayuga Lake National Bank; Tioga State Bank Foundation; and Ongweoweh Corp.
“A large volume of research with diverse populations and age groups shows that social connectedness is one of the most important factors in determining not only our mental health, but also our physical health,” according to the Suicide Prevention Center’s announcement.
The center said that the conference experts will summarize the latest prevention science and explain why we should all be more focused on supporting social connection across the lifespan—from early childhood and adolescence through our working and older-age years.
“Participants will be able to take ideas showcased in the conference back to their diverse communities and begin or build on existing work aimed at supporting healthy social connection,” the center said.
Physicians, social workers, mental health counselors, peers, psychologists can receive CEU credits and CASACs for many of the sessions.
September 20, 2022
Making the Case for Connection & Innovative Models for At-Risk Groups
“Leveraging Community Engagement to Promote Mental Health Equity and Connection Across the Lifespan”
Sidney Hankerson, MD, MBA
Associate Professor, Department of Psychiatry, Director, Mental Health Equity Research, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai
“What matters most in health and happiness? Insights from the Harvard Longitudinal Study”
Robert Waldinger, MD
Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School
“iGen: Understanding the mental health risks of Gen Z”
Jean Twenge, PhD
Professor of Psychology at San Diego State University
“Social Isolation and Loneliness as Risk Factors for Early Mortality; and Social Connection as a Protective Factor: What the Latest Science Tells Us” (Keynote)
Julianne Holt-Lundstadt, PhD
Professor of Psychology and Neuroscience at Brigham Young University
“Innovative Models for at-risk populations: Exploring the unique and common elements of these community engagement models” (Round Table Discussion)
September 21, 2022
Connection Across the Lifespan
“We Are the Medicine: Building Relational Systems of Care to Take Positive Childhood Experiences to Scale”
Christina Bethell, PhD, MPH, MBA
Professor at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University & Director of the Child & Adolescent Health Measurement Initiative
“Social and School Connectedness: Key Contributors to Adolescent Mental Health and Suicide Risk” (Keynote)
Cheryl King, PhD
Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Director of the Youth Depression and Suicide Prevention Program at the University of Michigan
“Working Minds: Why Peer Support Matters for Suicide Prevention and Mental Health Promotion at Work”
President of United Suicide Survivors International, clinical psychologist, inspirational international speaker and impact entrepreneur
UA VIP instructor/BTJ Pipefitter, retired U.S. Army Sergeant 1st Class, and member of UA Local 58
“Connecting and Contributing: AmeriCorps Seniors Service as Upstream Suicide Prevention for Older Adults”
Kim Van Orden, PhD
Clinical Psychologist and Associate Professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Rochester Medical Center
Director, Americorps Seniors
Mary Hyde, PhD
Director, Office of Research and Evaluation AmeriCorps
“DBT STEPS-A: A school-based social emotional learning program for adolescents in Central New York & Brooklyn”
James Mazza, PhD | Elizabeth Dexter-Mazza, PhD | Alexandra Hernandez | Jacklyn Beck
“Inspiring Comfort: A skills program for compassionate connecting”
Jen Marr | Taylor Walls
“HealthySteps NY: An early childhood development support program for families that is expanding statewide”
Hetal Tangal, MD | Allison Lieber, LCSW | David Beguin, MD, PhD | Laura Sigel | Marcia Rice, RN, MS
“Connection Planning: A workshop for mental health clinicians working with socially isolated/lonely clients”
Kim Van Orden, PhD
September 22, 2022
Community-level Connection &Stories of Hope from Attempt Survivors
“Connect: A social network health suicide prevention program”
Professor and Director of the School and Community-Based Prevention Laboratory at the University of Rochester
Anthony R. Pisani, PhD
Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics
Bryan Yates, B.A
Senior Human Subjects Research Coordinator Department of Psychiatry University of Rochester School of Medicine
Chelsea Keller Elliott, MS, LMFT
Senior Research – Prevention Specialist University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry
“Embedding social relations and community into primary care—A population approach” (Keynote)
Helen Kingston, MD
Primary care physician at Frome Medical Practice in Frome, Somerset, England
“Real stories of hope and connection from suicide attempt survivors”
Tony Trahan (Moderator)
Deputy Director of the New York State Office of Consumer Affairs
Dillon Browne, LMSW
Licensed social worker, coordinating daily operations for MHA Westchester’s Sterling Community Center
Emily Childress, MPA, CPS-P
Network Manager for Wellness Collaborative of NY IPA
Jeff McQueen, MBA, LCDC
Executive Director of the Mental Health Association of Nassau County
Regional Advocacy Specialist, New York State Office of Mental Health – Office of Consumer Affairs
Please consider making a donation today to support The Sophie Fund’s work on mental health initiatives aiding young people in the Ithaca and Tompkins County communities. Sophie would have turned 30 on August 23 this week, and we are marking the occasion to launch our 2022 fundraising appeal.
—Funding United in Kindness community events in October for Bullying Prevention Month.
—Funding training in mental health and suicide prevention for clinicians, social workers, and community members.
—Collaborating with student organizations to campaign against sexual assault on college campuses.
—Hosting our 7th Annual Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest to raise awareness about mental health (In person again this year, in the Ithaca Commons October 15.)
A few highlights of The Sophie Fund’s work since our last fundraising appeal in 2021:
Zero Suicide Initiative. We hosted a series of five presentations and trainings for Tompkins County healthcare leaders, primary care physicians, clinicians, and social workers to advance an evidence-based model of suicide care.
Ithaca Cupcake Baking Contest. We hosted the sixth annual contest (virtual edition, due to Covid-19). The contest brings together college and high school students, mental health providers, local businesses, and the general public to raise awareness about mental health.
Mental Health First Aid. The Sophie Fund provided grants to Tompkins Cortland Community College and the Mental Health Foundation to provide training to clinicians, students, and community members.
Breaking Our Silence: Storytelling for Mental Health. The Sophie Fund sponsored a series of film, theater, dance, literature, music, and other activities “to increase empathy, build understanding, and help lift the shroud of shame and secrecy around mental illness.”
Delia Divided. The Sophie Fund sponsored the Civic Ensemble ReEntry Theatre Program’s premier of a play exploring the impacts of mental health, incarceration, and racism.
Ithaca College Interns. We hosted two interns from Ithaca College during the 2021-22 academic year to write about mental health for our website: Matt Minton and Jordan Mast.
For more information on The Sophie Fund’s work, please visit:
Top healthcare leaders in Tompkins County have agreed to form a steering committee to drive local implementation of the Zero Suicide Model, an emerging standard designed to save lives by closing gaps in the suicide care offered by and across healthcare providers.
The move came during “Zero Suicide Roundtable: A Discussion on Best Practices in Suicide Prevention with Tompkins County Healthcare Leaders,” hosted on July 20 at the Statler Hotel by The Sophie Fund and Tompkins County Mental Health Services.
The 13 roundtable participants represented Cayuga Medical Center, Guthrie Cortland Medical Center, Tompkins County Health Department, Tompkins County Mental Health Services, Family & Children’s Service of Ithaca, Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service, Cornell University, Tompkins Cortland Community College, and The Sophie Fund.
The leaders’ agreement is a step toward fulfilling Goal 2 of the Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition’s 2022-2025 Strategic Plan, adopted last February, which calls for “quality improvement for suicide care in all Tompkins County healthcare and behavioral health settings.”
The strategic plan’s Objective 2.3 calls for the formation of a “Zero Suicide Work Group comprised of leading health and mental health providers to share ideas, experiences, and challenges, and lead collaborative, sustainable efforts to implement the Zero Suicide Model throughout Tompkins County.”
Harmony Ayers-Friedlander, deputy commissioner of Tompkins County Mental Health Services, introduced Heise to the gathering “as we renew our commitment to the implementation of the Zero Suicide Model in our community, within, and across, our healthcare settings.” She noted that the county’s Suicide Prevention Coalition was launched exactly five years earlier with the vision of “a community where no lives are lost to suicide.”
Addressing the healthcare leaders, Ayers-Friedlander added:
“Your presence here today serves as a reminder of just how important this work is. Zero Suicide works. Because it gives us hope that we can make a difference, direction through a systems-based framework when faced with the complexity of human suffering, and real tools that help us at each step of the way. Today is a time to evaluate where we are individually as institutions and collectively as a community in preventing suicide through this model.”
Jenna Heise, director of New York State’s Suicide Prevention Implementation, moderates a Zero Suicide leadership roundtable
Heise opened the roundtable with a brief overview of the Zero Suicide Model and then walked participants through a discussion on the model’s seven elements: leadership, training, screening and assessment, care planning, treatment, transition of care, and quality improvement.
“The foundational belief of Zero Suicide is that individuals in our care, on our watch, need not die by suicide, and that suicide is actually preventable for those in care,” Heise said. “The way that happens is that suicide prevention and suicide care become a core priority for health and behavioral health. We have not done a good job of that, frankly.”
“We need to have that leadership commitment,” Heise said. Under the model, she explained, a leadership commitment creates a “just culture” for suicide care that relies on systemic use of best practices rather than leaving suicide prevention to individual health workers.
“It has to be looked at as a systems problem,” she said. “For too long, we have left it to the crisis team or to one outstanding individual clinician or social worker, and our systems, or the newest person, the greenest person straight out of school, who had no schooling in suicide.”
Citing examples of successful implementation of Zero Suicide, such as in the Henry Ford Health System in Michigan, Heise added: “It is an aspirational goal but it is quite attainable. There are folks that have done this work and committed to it, and followed this framework in implementing the seven elements, and they have shown that you could significantly reduce the suicides, by rate and number, within your healthcare organization.”
Heise commended Tompkins County’s approach to creating a “safer suicide community, wrapped around health and behavioral healthcare, including partners on board like the health department, behavioral health, large health systems, universities, higher ed, and so forth. That’s where you start to really see impact, everybody speaking the same language, using the same tools, the same best practices, the same framework. This is very exciting.”
Participants shared their experiences with various aspects of suicide prevention measures within their systems. They noted the importance of cross-system coordination and integration for suicide care, the challenge of staffing, and a desire for greater suicide-specific training. Several participants noted their continuous quality improvement efforts in suicide care but said they did not follow the Zero Suicide Model per se.
The Sophie Fund provided participants with a packet of materials about the Zero Suicide Model and previous suicide prevention efforts that have been undertaken in Tompkins County. The packet included the following items:
The roundtable was the fifth and final session of a Zero Suicide initiative launched by The Sophie Fund last November. Previous events included:
“Call to Action: Suicide Prevention in Healthcare,” an expert briefing on the Zero Suicide Model for Tompkins County healthcare leaders, on November 16 by Jenna Heise, Director of Suicide Prevention Implementation at the Suicide Prevention Center of New York.
“Implementation of Zero Suicide,” a suicide prevention presentation for front line managers, on March 24 by Tammy Weppelman, State Suicide Prevention Coordinator at the Texas Health and Human Services Commission.
If you or someone you know feels the need to speak with a mental health professional, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by dialing 988 (or 1-800-273-8255), or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.