Addressing mental health after suicide rate increases in Franklin County

Local News

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Mental health has been at the forefront since this pandemic started. On Tuesday, The Franklin County Coroner’s Office released suicide statistics for the last six months showing a suicide increase, including in kids 19 years old and younger.

Overall, suicides have jumped from 4 percent to 9 percent in the past six months. Even though the sampling is small, only 75 deaths total, local psychologists say it’s still concerning. 

“We are seeing an increase from the beginning of the pandemic when I think folks were deciding not to address mental health issues,” said Dr. John Ackerman with Nationwide Children’s Hospital. “When you’re cut off from everybody, it makes it really tough and you’re going to have some deep depression.”

A mom of two and a teacher, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, knows depression all too well.

“It doesn’t surprise me the suicide rate has gone up because they can’t do [what they want] anymore,” she said.

She said people, especially those under the age of 22, can’t do things they used to find joy in such as hanging out with friends in groups, socializing, going to movies or events and even going to school every day.

“Unless you’ve actually been there, you have no idea what it feels like,” she said.

The teacher said she’s seeing the pandemic affecting the mental health of some of her students.

“It doesn’t surprise me. It actually scares me,” she said.

Dr. Ackerman says right now it’s important to focus on prevention and screening, even as early as kids who are elementary age.

“It’s not if kids are experiencing it, we know a certain percentage are,” he said. “Let’s make sure our adults who work with kids know what to do, what to look for, and how to respond.”

Suicide prevention organizations in Franklin County are noticing the steady increase and are stepping in, virtually with programs such as ‘Be Present Ohio.’

“During the pandemic, we have upped our efforts to help people through everything,” said Keiko Talley from the Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation. “We have utilized ‘Be Present’ that’s aimed at helping youth in the community. We shifted gears online and have seen success.”

But Michelle Vargas with the Franklin County Suicide Prevention Coalition says there is only so much they can do.

“This is a call to the educational system that we need to partner on a addressing this issue in our county,” Vargas said. “It is on the community to recognize the data, see what’s going on, and then use it to identify how can we amp up suicide prevention programming.”

Vargas says now that everything is online the active engagement has been growing. She says they’ve been able to reach more people than ever before.

From the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research:
The Signs: What to Look for The following warning signs indicate that a youth is severely depressed or at risk for suicide and should be responded to immediately: 

  1. Talking to others or posting on social media about: Suicide or wanting to die, feeling hopeless, trapped, or like they are “a burden” to others 
  2. Looking for a way to kill themselves. Gathering medications, sharp objects, firearms, or searching online for ways to end their life 
  3. Expressing unbearable emotional pain 
  4. Visiting or calling people to say “goodbye” 
  5. Giving away prized possessions 

The following warning signs indicate that a youth may be struggling with depression, which requires further evaluation by a mental health professional:  

  1. Feeling sad or irritable more often than not.
  2. Sleeping or eating more or less than usual 
  3. Showing little to no interest in pleasurable activities 
  4. Withdrawing from others 
  5. Participating in reckless behavior that is out of character 
  6. Engaging in self-injurious behavior 
  7. Having trouble concentrating or performing poorly in school 
  8. Complaining frequently about physical symptoms (e.g., fatigue, stomachaches, headaches) 
  9. Increasing use of alcohol or drugs

The Response: How to Communicate Concern and Get Support When a youth shares thought of wanting to die by suicide or warning signs become obvious, use these strategies: 

  1. Remain calm, take a deep breath and do not react emotionally. It’s OK to feel uncomfortable. 
  2.  Be patient and speak in a relaxed, reassuring tone. 
  3. Tell them you care and acknowledge that they are hurting. 
  4. Be direct about your concerns: o State the specific changes you see in the person’s mood and/or behavior. 
  5.  Ask if them if they are thinking about suicide or have tried to kill themselves. 
  6. Get professional help. 
  7.  Never leave them alone if they are showing warning signs of suicide. Some ways of responding to a person who is having suicidal thoughts are ineffective. Please consider the following tips. 
  8.  Don’t debate whether suicide is right or wrong. 
  9. Don’t lecture on the value of life or question why someone could feel this way. 
  10. Don’t be sworn to secrecy or promise confidentiality; indicate that safety and getting help are top priority. 

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255), or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Trained crisis counselors are standing by to help 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. For more information about the Center for Suicide Prevention and Research at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, visit NationwideChildrens.org/Suicide-Prevention.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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