Education, resources, and empathy are the key factors in reducing suicide attempts and deaths in Delaware County, according to a suicide prevention professional at HelpLine in Delaware.
Sarah Lee Jefferson, who serves as the suicide prevention program manager at HelpLine, said Thursday that 23 county residents committed suicide in 2019, an increase from 19 individuals in each of the two prior years. Jefferson said one of the 23 suicides was a young adult and three were elderly individuals, but the majority were men between the ages of 40 to 60, which happens to be the statistical average.
The Delaware County Sheriff’s Office reported it took 194 reports of attempted suicide in 2019, which was up from 191 in 2018. The City of Delaware Police Department reported taking 87 suicide threats and 29 suicide attempts in 2019, which was down from 88 threats and 45 attempts in 2018. The City of Powell Police Department reported it does not track suicide attempts, but the department reported it took 20 calls in 2019 that were coded to dispatchers as suicide attempts, which was a decrease from 39 in 2018. Powell police stated not all of the 20 calls may have been attempts, adding it’s likely some were only threats.
Jefferson said the attempt numbers are under-reported because not everyone who attempts suicide calls 911 for help or goes to a hospital.
“Even though we don’t have the true picture of all the data, you notice those trends in the data we already have,” Jefferson said. “What we’re trying to do right now is give a true picture of what’s going on with our residents here in Delaware.”
Jefferson said Delaware County’s statistics are lower than the average county in Ohio.
“We’re lucky in Delaware, because we have so much access to health care,” Jefferson said. “We have so many more mental health professionals than some of the small counties, and we have a lot more resources available.”
Jefferson said areas like Appalachian Ohio have been hit much harder because of a lack of resources and many industrial and rural jobs disappearing.
“Sadly, you’ll see more suicide rates the more rural you go,” she said. “Even though Delaware is pretty rural, we have a lot more resources and mental health things in place, so we’re really lucky. The Delaware General Health District is really active trying to make sure we have prevention education in classrooms, and teaching kids what to look for in family members, peers and themselves. Those things contribute to our lower suicide rate.”
Jefferson added education is one of the best tools to preventing suicide.
“All of that education piece really is a big thing,” she said. “It’s great to have mental health professionals, but it’s good to do prevention work to help people before things happen and get them in the mindset of when you’re feeling like this, go get help before it gets worse. Prevention education in Delaware is quite amazing and unlike other counties.”
Jefferson said one of the leading causes of suicide for middle-aged men is finances.
“(These men could be) going through job changes, retirement, or a change in their purpose in life,” she said. “Financial difficulties, going through a divorce, or (having issues as parents) can all contribute to that.”
Jefferson said there are several warning signs for family members or friends to look for.
“Hopelessness is one of the big things that’s common in people who die by suicide,” she said. “They feel like there’s nothing that makes it better, there’s nothing they can do about it. They just feel as if they are stuck with whatever it is they have going on and there’s no hope left. They really only see that one way out, like tunnel vision.”
Jefferson said men who commit suicide frequently think it’s “the only thing they can do.”
“It’s where the mind really thinks that’s the only solution to make it stop,” she said. “They are in psychological distress, and they really feel one solution to make the pain in their mind stop.”
Jefferson said feeling like a burden is frequently another sign.
“It’s not that they are trying to hurt anybody,” Jefferson said. “They think they are actually doing (their loved ones) a favor.”
Jefferson said to watch out for people giving away valued possessions, talking about dying, or making plans for their death and struggling with day-to-day life.
She added HelpLine is a resource for anyone struggling with thoughts of suicide or with family members they worry may be contemplating suicide. HelpLine’s Crisis Hotline can be reached at 740-369-3316, and more information about HelpLine can be found at helplinedelmor.org.
However, not every individual needs a trip to the hospital, Jefferson said.
“Just because someone has suicidal thoughts doesn’t mean you need to rush them to the hospital,” she said. “It’s okay for them to have those thoughts, and you should really try to talk to that person and make them realize you care about them and that their feelings are valid. Sometimes that can be all they need at that given moment.
Jefferson said in some cases, rushing someone to the hospital will make them feel worse about what they are going through and can make them less likely to seek help if it happens again.
“Sometimes it’s about being there for the person and really talking to them and making them feel like you really care about them,” Jefferson said. “A lot of times they feel like no one cares, and they feel alone in their struggle but they’re not.”
Jefferson added personal connections are extremely important to individuals who are having suicidal thoughts.
“All the resources and mental health professionals are awesome, but the person at the end of the day needs their support group,” she said. “They need their family to go to, and a lot of times, they isolate themselves in that situation because they feel like a burden, which is actually one of the worst things that can happen.
“If you’ve been thinking about suicide, just realize that you’re not alone in this and there are tons of people to go to for help,” Jefferson added. “We can’t have enough conversations about it. That’s how prevention works in this field.”
Jefferson said HelpLine has started offering Gatekeeper Suicide Prevention Training, which teaches people to question, persuade, and refer individuals who suicidal thoughts. She said HelpLine has done the one-hour training course with the City of Delaware Police Department and offers the course to any groups who feel it would be valuable.
Registration can be completed by contacting Jefferson at 740-363-1835, ext. 112, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
HelpLine’s 24/7 live Crisis Hotline can be reached at 740-369-3316, 419-947-2520 or 1-800-684-2324. More information about HelpLine can be found at helplinedelmor.org.
Glenn Battishill can be reached at 740-413-0903 or on Twitter @BattishillDG.