Suicide is often considered a taboo subject, something people discuss in hushed tones. However, Schenectady County, in a joint effort with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, is offering a series of community discussions about suicide, how it may be prevented and the steps that are being taken to address the issue within the community.
The next discussion, which is open to parents and teens, will take place Tuesday, April 28, at Scotia-Glenville High School from 6 to 8 p.m. All forums are free.
They’re actually community forums, said Mary Jean Coleman, regional director for Upstate New York American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Coleman will be leading the discussions, along with members from the Schenectady County Department of Community Service. The forums are being held partly in response to the recent wave of suicides and attempted suicides among students at Schenectady High School. They are also part of a general effort to educate the public about suicide.
Coleman said her organization wants to spread the message that suicide prevention is a community effort; it’s not just the responsibility of schools or government or not-for-profit organizations.
`It’s a combination of everyone working together,` said Coleman.
She said that her organization has been working closely with Schenectady County and that part of its community-wide mission is to spreading its message through education.
`What is this public health issue of suicide? What does it look like? What’s the magnitude of the problem?` Coleman said. `It’s a public health problem . What we need to do is educate to take down some of those walls of shame and stigma and silence, and that’s what I’ll be talking about.`
According to Coleman, a reported 32,000 Americans die as a result of suicide each year, but nobody has a solid idea of the actual numbers because many suicides are not reported.
`It could be that suicides are a leading cause of death for teens. [but] in some states, it is required that a suicide note be left,` said Coleman.
She said that research indicates only one in six suicides involves a note.
`From county to county in our state, coroners vary in how they report a suicide, so it may be that coroners have known a family a long time and chose to rule the death as an accident or a different cause,` said Coleman.
She said that is often done in an effort to make the family’s loss a little less painful to handle.
She said that sometimes it is also hard to tell whether a death was actually a mistake or whether it was done on purpose ` she used fatal car accidents as an example.
However, Coleman said she has noticed a statewide trend in providing mental health for those who may be at risk, and it happens to be something that hits close to home for her.
`For many, many years we did not talk about suicide at all. I lost my brother in 1979, and at that time we didn’t talk about it,` said Coleman. `I would say probably around the mid-’80s, we the advocates ` those who had lost someone to suicide ` began to step forward and tell our stories and change legislation.`
She said that things like Timothy’s Law, which requires health plans sold in New York to provide comparable coverage for mental health ailments, were part of the beginning of a reform.
`We know that in 90 percent of suicides, there is a mental illness involved. Much has changed in the last 30 years or so since I lost my brother,` said Coleman. `We have a long way to go ` we’ve made great headway ` but still have a ways to go.`
At the forum, the first topic to be discussed is education, letting people know that suicide is a public health issue that affects many people across the country, and teaching people to be alert to indications that people may be having thoughts of suicide.
`What’s beautiful about Schenectady County is that resources are coming together from all disciplines. By that I mean clergy, school police, administrators, organizations like ours ` so that people are talking to each other, and that’s what we need,` said Coleman.
In conjunction with the talk, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is showing a new video about teenage depression.
`It’s about being more than sad. And what does depression look like? It shows our teens what to look for in their peers,` said Coleman.
The forum also includes a discussion about what resources are available around the community.
`We have to be able to talk about it or we can’t move together to prevent it, but it’s difficult to talk about ` certainly it is ` I can speak firsthand to that, but if we don’t talk about it then we’re going to continue to lose lives,` said Coleman.
For more information about the forum, visit the Scotia-Glenville Web site at www.scotiaglenvilleschools.org, or www.schenectadycounty.com, or the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at www.afsp.org.
`We talk about mental illnesses being associated with suicide, and we know there are very good treatments, [but] unless we talk about it we lose lives because people don’t know,` said Coleman.
`[It’s important] to make the parents and the students more aware of the warning signs and what can be done to intervene,` said Mike Rumbaugh, Mohonasen Central School District’s school resource officer with the Rotterdam Police Department.