It’s Watershed Declaration Month

The Tompkins County Legislature on Tuesday proclaimed September 2017 to be “The Watershed Declaration Month” in support of intensified suicide prevention efforts in the community.

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In a proclamation read out in the name of legislature Chair Michael E. Lane, Legislator Anna Kelles said:

“I call upon our citizens, government agencies, non-governmental organizations, health care providers, and educational institutions to raise awareness of Ithaca’s mental health support services, encourage those in need to seek treatment, honor those in our community we have lost too soon, commit to an all-out effort to prevent suicide, and support the efforts of the Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition.”

The proclamation came at the start of national Suicide Prevention Month and six weeks after the launch of the Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition by 32 local mental health organizations. The Watershed Declaration was adopted at a meeting of mental health stakeholders in Ithaca on April 17. The organizations declared suicide to be a serious public health concern and pledged to “intensify efforts toward saving lives and bringing hope to those struggling with suicide thoughts or affected by suicide loss.”

In receiving the proclamation, Scott MacLeod, a donor advisor of The Sophie Fund, established to support mental health initiatives for young people in the community, thanked Kelles and the legislature for their support. He also commended the initiative of Tompkins County Mental Health Commissioner Frank Kruppa and Deputy Commissioner Sharon MacDougall to establish the county’s Suicide Prevention Coalition.

“We learned the hard way that suicide is a terrible tragedy, and we learned the hard way that suicide is preventable,” said MacLeod, whose daughter Sophie, a 23-year-old Cornell University student on a mental health leave of absence, died by suicide in March 2016. “We are convinced that promoting greater awareness of risk factors and warning signs—and with the role that healthcare systems can play in closing the gaps—can really save a lot of lives. One life is too many to lose, and we are losing too many.”

Lee-Ellen Marvin, executive director of the Suicide Prevention and Crisis Service in Ithaca, lauded the legislature’s designation of The Watershed Declaration Month. “It’s exciting to see people from all different sectors, the government and the non-profit community, coming together to re-enlist effort and energy in suicide prevention,” she said. “If we are going to make change in how suicide is understood and treated, and if we are going to register it as a public health crisis, we need governmental bodies to stand behind us.”

Kelles, chair of the county legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, said The Sophie Fund’s push for The Watershed Declaration and Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition “were both critical first steps in our community engagement to reduce deaths from suicide.”

“These are first steps on a long road to a very attainable goal that needs engagement from everyone in the community,” Kelles added. “We have a very fast paced lifestyle as a society where productivity is the key to survival. In some ways this is beautiful but in other ways it has contributed to a breakdown in nurturing quality time within families and within the larger community. The ultimate impact is steadily increasing isolation from each other and increasing rates of depression. Part of the work of the coalition and The Sophie Fund is to help us regain that sense of community through collective care and attention for each other’s well-being. To create comprehensive systems of mental health support for if and when any one of us feels buried under the weight of our lives is to build a resilient and vibrant community.”

Photo caption: Lee Ellen Marvin, executive director, Suicide Prevention and Crisis Service; Scott MacLeod, donor advisor, The Sophie Fund; Anna Kelles, Tompkins County legislator (District 2, City of Ithaca)

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Tompkins County Legislature Proclamation

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The Watershed Declaration

Meet the Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition

More than 40 local mental health leaders launched the Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition at a day-long working meeting held in Ithaca Monday.

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“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.”

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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.

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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

Cornell Health

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

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