By Keith Gushard
Crawford County’s 2012 suicide rate was up 25 percent from the historical average while the age of those taking their own lives dropped by about 33 percent.
Counselors and other mental health experts are alarmed by the statistics and offer a number of strategies to head off tragedy. However, they cannot explain what happened in the county last year.
“As for the increase, we can’t say. We don’t know why. Each case is individual,” said Tracy Auell, who serves on the Crawford County Suicide Task Force, a countywide collaborative effort of mental health professionals, school districts and others.
For 2012, 16 deaths were ruled suicides with an average age of 34, according to the Crawford County coroner’s office.
By comparison, the county had a total of 12 suicide deaths in 2011 with an average age of 50, according to the coroner’s office. Back in 2000, the county had a total of 13 suicides for all of that year, also with an average age of 50, according to the coroner’s office.
“The county averages about 12 suicides a year,” said Coroner Scott Schell.
While Schell and other experts cannot pinpoint a specific reason for the change in Crawford County, it is clear that young people in general face a number of circumstances that may put them at greater risk for suicide.
“For anybody, the world is a hard place, but for a 14-year-old it can be harder,” said Dr. Jason Rock, an area psychiatrist whose practice deals with children and adolescents. “Adolescent and children brains are not fully formed. They are not looking toward the future when something bad happens to them. Everything happening can seem overwhelming.”
This tendency can be even more troublesome when combined with today’s technology.
Negative information posted on social media sites such as Facebook can take a heavy toll, according to Mela Calomino Zinz, also who serves on the county’s suicide task force.
“With Facebook you have information out about someone very quickly,” she said. “And, it’s one-way communication out there about a person.”
Mood swings also can be another indicator, said Jennifer Yeager Lloyd, a licensed counselor with Woodbridge Counseling of Meadville.
Because young people aren’t always open about their feelings, Rock advises that not only parents, but other family members, friends and others need to be watchful for suicidal signs.
“Kids will feel saddened, isolated or not care about their appearance, but you want to watch when those things go beyond the normal level,” he said of warning signs of suicide in young people. “More often than not, they are going to vocalize that (suicidal feelings), but not to a parent, but to a peer or a teacher or a friend.”
“A wide range of behavior may be exhibited,” Yeager Lloyd said. “Someone may be withdrawn, but then they may act out. An angry adolescent male is an example. It’s easily missed (as depression) because you expect the person to be withdrawn if they’re depressed.”
A federal Centers for Disease Control report said research has shown that when open aggression, anxiety or agitation is present in individuals who are depressed, the risk for suicide increases significantly.
Mental health professionals advise to always keep lines of communication open, especially with children and adolescents, as a way to prevent suicide, but if there is talk of suicide, mental health professionals need to be contacted immediately.
“When somebody says ‘don’t tell anybody’ you need to say something to somebody,” said Yeager Lloyd. “You need to have a professional in the loop.”
“You’ve always got to be able to talk to your kids,” said Rock. “You’ve got to know who their friends are and what they are doing.”
Keith Gushard can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at email@example.com.
Did you know?
The Crawford County Suicide Task Force formed in February 2011 as a collaboration among Crawford County Human Services, which provides mental health services; Pennsylvania Department of Health; local law enforcement; area school districts; children’s behavioral services; psychiatric services; medical staff; counselors; Crawford County Drug and Alcohol Executive Committee; Crawford County Crisis Team; local clergy; Crawford County Coroner’s Office; funeral homes; and family members.
Its mission statement is: “The Crawford County Suicide Task Force is committed to helping children, teens and adults at risk for suicide, as well as their families and communities affected by suicide through education, advocacy and support.”
Its core values are: “We believe in a community that is dedicated to doing everything possible to prevent suicide.
“We believe that suicide is a public health issue that can be addressed through talking, listening, understanding, connecting and taking action.”
-More information: Contact the Crawford County Suicide Task Force through Crawford County Human Services at 724-8380.
Help is available for persons in a suicide crisis, according to the Crawford County Suicide Task Force.
-Local crisis support: Crawford County Mobile Crisis at (800) 315-5721
-National crisis support: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-TALK or (800) 273-8255. There also is a website with information online at: suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
-For local non-crisis support: Call the WARMLINE at (800) 931-2055
-For local mental health services or information on the Crawford County Suicide Task Force: Call Crawford County Human Services at 724-8380.