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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The Watershed Declaration

Community mental health stakeholders representing 18 organizations on Monday declared suicide a “serious public health concern” and pledged to intensify suicide prevention efforts in Ithaca and Tompkins County.

GarraLloyd-Lester                       Garra Lloyd-Lester, associate director of the Suicide Prevention Center New York

The call to action, known as The Watershed Declaration, was adopted by acclamation at the close of a meeting of leaders from Tompkins County, the City of Ithaca, non-profit organizations, and the campuses of Cornell University, Ithaca College, and Tompkins Cortland Community College.

The Watershed Declaration stated as follows:

“We the assembled mental health stakeholders of the greater Ithaca community and Tompkins County recognize suicide as a serious public health concern. Today we renew our commitment to suicide prevention and pledge to intensify efforts toward saving lives and bringing hope to those struggling with suicide thoughts or affected by suicide loss.”

Lee-Ellen Marvin, executive director of the Suicide Prevention and Crisis Service in Ithaca, praised the call to action. “I was excited and moved to see leaders from different parts of our social service community together in one room, thinking about and committing to suicide prevention,” she said. “There is indeed a public health crisis, and the way to prevent suicide is with awareness, vigilance, and the willingness of all parts of society to commit to this effort.”

Addressing the gathering at The Watershed in Ithaca, Garra Lloyd-Lester, associate director of the Suicide Prevention Center New York, announced plans to convene a “key stakeholders” meeting in June with the aim of establishing a suicide prevention coalition in Tompkins County.

Lloyd-Lester explained that suicide is increasingly seen as a public health problem rather than just an issue to be handled by an individual and their therapist.

“Operationally, that means we can all play a role in helping individuals who might be struggling with thoughts of suicide, to help keep them safe,” said Lloyd-Lester. “Seeing the folks here today it is really reflective of this idea that suicide is everybody’s business. That is the mantra that the state talks about: suicide prevention is everybody’s business.”

Sharon MacDougall, Deputy Commissioner of Mental Health Services in Tompkins County, welcomed the state’s initiative. “Suicide prevention efforts in Tompkins County are strong and need collaboration among all our agencies, providers, and groups like The Sophie Fund,” she said. “A Suicide Prevention Coalition will help bring these efforts together in close collaboration—providing a unified and passionate Tompkins County voice advocating zero suicides in our county.”

Monday’s meeting was organized by The Sophie Fund, which advocates for improved mental health for young people in the greater Ithaca area.