Preventing Suicide Deaths in Tompkins: What’s Next?

The Suicide Prevention Center of New York conducted a two-hour workshop on June 29 that outlined a six-step strategic planning model to help Tompkins County identify suicide risk factors in the community and appropriate mitigation tools for addressing them.

WATCH: Suicide Prevention Workshop for Tompkins County

The workshop was conducted via Zoom by Garra Lloyd-Lester, director of the center’s Community and Coalition Initiatives, for the 19-member strategic planning work group of the Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition.

“The goal of this workshop is to provide a framework, a structure, that you all might consider to then utilize going forward to develop your county’s strategic plan for suicide prevention,” said Lloyd-Lester.

He cited reports of at least 54 suicide deaths in Tompkins County from 2017 to 2021; 87 percent of those who died by suicide were white and 20 percent were in the 20-29 age bracket. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, and the second leading cause of death for Americans aged 10-34.

The Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition was formed in 2017 to intensify suicide prevention efforts in the community; as of April 2021, the coalition listed 215 members including 73 agencies and community organizations.

READ: Click here for more information about suicide prevention in Tompkins County

Lloyd-Lester said that Step 1 in strategic planning involves compiling data to achieve the clearest possible understanding of a community’s suicide deaths—who is dying, and by what means.

“We want to talk about who in our community is dying by suicide, who in our community might be experiencing suicidal thoughts that haven’t necessarily led to actions, or experiencing suicidal thoughts that led to attempts that didn’t result in the individual dying,” said Lloyd-Lester.

“We want to be thinking about other characteristics that we might be able to gather: age, gender, race, ethnicity, and other characteristics that might help us begin to understand in our community who is dying by, or making attempts toward, suicide.”

Lloyd-Lester added that it is equally important to understand how people are making attempts or completing suicide. “Is there one or more that tends to be the more prevalent method in our community?” he asked. “Understanding how people are dying in our community and making attempts can really help to begin to explore possible interventions and strategies.”

READ: Click here for more information about the Suicide Prevention Center of New York

Step 2 recommends that the coalition consider two or three long-term goals, aimed at addressing the trends indicated by the data; the goals might focus on a demographic group reporting a higher suicide rate, or particular methods that appear to be prevalent in the community’s suicide deaths.

In Step 3, the coalition is advised to identify the key risk factors and protective factors or lack thereof in the community. Risk factors include mental health conditions, availability of lethal means such as firearms or drugs; protective factors include availability of mental health resources, social connectedness, and coping skills.

“We have to be thinking about ‘why’,” said Lloyd-Lester. “Are there any unique risk factors in the community that contribute to suicidal behaviors? It is not just enough to know the commonly understood risk factors. We need to drill down and say, ‘In our community, are there any unique risk factors that we can begin to address?’”

Lloyd-Lester said that Step 4 involves selecting practical, evidence-based interventions for decreasing a community’s risk factors and increasing protective factors. He cited examples such as packaging prescription drugs in lesser quantities to reduce their potential as a lethal means for suicide; or promoting problem-solving skills among young people as an increased protective factor. He recommended that the coalition take an inventory of suicide prevention efforts already underway that could be built upon, such as adoption of the Zero Suicide Model for healthcare providers and gatekeeper training for identifying at-risk individuals.

In Step 5, the coalition is advised to develop a plan to evaluate its efforts to prevent suicide deaths; Lloyd-Lester said an evaluation helps to track and measure progress and to show partners, stakeholders, policymakers, funders, and the community the value of suicide prevention efforts.

Finally, Lloyd-Lester said that Step 6 is the creation of an action plan to implement the suicide prevention interventions identified in Step 4. He said an action plan usually includes a list of tasks and who is responsible for them, and a timeline for implementation.

“I find that if I don’t have a timeline in place the ball can keep getting kicked down the road,” he said. “So I would suggest at least coming up with a rough timeline of when we hope to have the data presented, when we hope to have the long-term goals presented, and ultimately when we hope to have a final plan to present to the full coalition.”

Lloyd-Lester cautioned that a number of speed bumps can hinder the success of a strategic plan: unrealistic goals; lack of focus, resources, or full member commitment; developing and creating a plan for the sake of having a plan but just putting it on the shelf.

INTERESTED? To join or support the Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition, contact coalition convener Sally Manning at SallyMCSS@racker.org

[If you or someone you know feels the need to speak with a mental health professional, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.]

For Students, Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Resources

Students, is Covid-19 getting you down? Your friends have the blues? If you are concerned about your own mental health or the well-being of others, resources are available on the website of the Suicide Prevention Center of New York State (SPCNY).

 

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The center urges students to take care of themselves and to be alert to classmates who may be struggling.

“You usually know what is happening before the adults in your school,” says SPCNY. “You have your ear to the ground, you catch rumors, gossip, the buzz on social medial, and you are usually the first ones to know if a peer is in trouble.

“A lot of kids struggle with feeling down or sad that they sometimes are unable to participate in normal activities. Some kids feel so bad that they think about suicide or even make suicide attempts. Some kids actually take their own lives.”

SPCNY notes that young people might be the first to see WARNING SIGNS that indicate that somebody they know may be thinking about suicide.

Click here for a fact sheet to learn more about the warning signs and how to respond to them.

“It is important to take your observations seriously,” SPCNY says. “Do not ignore them or assume your friend is just being dramatic. If you notice any of these warning signs, tell an adult. What you see may be a signal that your friend is thinking about suicide, and that is not something you can deal with on your own.

“If your friend or someone you know makes a direct suicide threat, IMMEDIATELY tell a trusted adult. They might include someone from school like a teacher or a coach, or someone from your church, temple, neighborhood, or family. Whoever that person is, share your concerns and let them take action. If you have immediate concerns about your friend’s safety, before you speak with a trusted adult, call 911!”

What do you do if you are having thoughts about suicide?

“First, know that it is really brave to recognize that you are having suicidal thoughts. Next, do the same thing you would do for your friend—tell a trusted adult. Just as you can’t help your friend by yourself, you need to ask for help too.

“There are lots of resources and skilled professionals who can help figure out why you feel that your life may not be worth living. They will also be able to help you stop feeling that way. Suicide is not just a reaction to stress—something more serious is going on and it is important to get help as soon as you can!

“If you are unsure of what to do, you can call the National Suicide Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “GOT5” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741. You do not have to identify yourself if you would rather stay anonymous. Someone who has special training in helping people who have questions or concerns will be available to speak or text with you.”

Other SPCNY-recommended resources for students:

What Every Student Needs to Know: The Warning Signs of Suicide Risk

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline youth page

The Trevor Project is a resource for LGBTQ teens

JED Foundation

Suicide Awareness Voices for Education (SAVE)

Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide

[If you or someone you know feels the need to speak with a mental health professional, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.]

State-Local Partnership in Suicide Prevention

The Sophie Fund on Thursday applauded New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s 2019 “Justice Agenda” for including a proposal to strengthen suicide prevention infrastructure through state and local partnerships.

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“While there is much still to be done, we truly thank Governor Cuomo for his commitment to preventing suicide in our state and for taking concrete actions in order to do so,” said Scott MacLeod, a co-founder of The Sophie Fund. “The governor understands the importance of addressing this challenge at the community level and with results-oriented strategies.”

In his annual State of the State Book accompanying an address to the legislature on Tuesday, Cuomo called on New York State agencies to partner with communities in five critical areas of suicide prevention: innovative public health approaches; healthcare systems; cultural competence in prevention programming; comprehensive crisis care; and surveillance data. Under the proposal, communities that demonstrably strengthen suicide prevention infrastructure will receive a New York State designation.

MacLeod noted that recent progress in Tompkins County’s suicide prevention efforts stemmed in part from the vital support provided by the state Suicide Prevention Office and affiliated Suicide Prevention Center of New York. In July 2018, the Tompkins County Legislature unanimously passed a resolution to support the Zero Suicide Model, a pillar of the state’s comprehensive suicide prevention policy. The resolution called on local healthcare and behavioral healthcare providers to follow the model’s systematic clinical approach to preventing suicides.

The legislative act came a month after the newly formed Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition voted overwhelmingly to recommend the Zero Suicide Model for healthcare providers as a countywide suicide prevention initiative.

“The state Suicide Prevention Office and Suicide Prevention Center of New York have been essential partners in the formation of the Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition and in assisting local stakeholders with significantly expanding suicide prevention efforts,” said MacLeod. “We welcome the opportunity under Governor Cuomo’s proposal to expand our partnership with the state.”

Cuomo’s proposal builds on the work of the New York State Suicide Prevention Task Force formed at his direction in 2017. Cuomo charged the task force with identifying gaps in programs, services, and policies while simultaneously making recommendations to facilitate greater access, awareness, collaboration, and support of effective suicide prevention activities.

According to “Justice Agenda,” the 2019 State of the State Book:

“Suicide is an enormous public health problem. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control, from 1999 to 2016, suicide rates in New York State rose by nearly 30 percent, while other leading causes of death such as cancer, heart disease, and motor vehicle accidents all decreased. Each year nearly 1,700 New Yorkers die by suicide.”

In 2016, the state Suicide Prevention Office released “1,700 Too Many: New York State’s Suicide Prevention Plan 2016–17.” It focused on three main areas for battling the rising suicide rate: prevention in Health and Behavioral Healthcare Settings (Zero Suicide Model); Prevention in Competent, Caring Communities Across the Lifespan; and Suicide Surveillance and Data-Informed Suicide Prevention.