The heartache of suicide for surviving family members was highlighted as Erie County leaders kicked of Suicide Prevention Week Tuesday. WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley says the prevention message is of hope.
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A yellow 'Flag of Hope' was hoisted up the flag pole in front of the county Rath Building as powerful lyrics of the song 'You Raise Me Up' were delivered. The flag is a symbol of this public health crisis.
Kathleen Gaffney has lost three families members to suicide, including her 24-year-old daughter Kasey two years ago.
“I’m a survivor and when one person takes their life – it is estimated that it effects 115 other people,” Gaffney explained.
Gaffney said the cause of her daughter's suicide was too many traumas, including sexual abuse.
“But I have also accepted the fact that it was her choice and that my husband and I did the very best we could and she knew she was loved,” remarked Gaffney.
The suicide rate in Erie County has risen 30-percent,
"This has been among our youth between our youth between the ages of 10 and 19 and among men ages 30 to 59. Our focus needs to be on education of key risk factors – family history, people with substance abuse disorders, and people with psychiatric conditions,” said Michael Ranney, Erie County Mental Health Commissioner.
Suicide prevention is the 24/7 mission at Crisis Services. CEO Jessica Pirro says over 480-calls come in each month to their hotline.
“Since June, when we had the high profile suicides across the country, we definitely saw a spike. Actually in June we had over 529 calls – July 554 calls and when we say we have increasing calls people tend to be in despair about that, but actually we see it as a positive. We see people are reaching out before they make the decision to end their lives,” Pirro said.
Suicide touches many lives, even Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, who joined Tuesday's kick-off event described his experience.
“As I unfortunately I had to learn firsthand, earlier this year, with the death of a very close friend of mine by suicide. Sometimes there’s warning signs – sometimes there’s not, but we need to get the message out to the public – that no matter what you’re feeling, no matter what you’re thinking – if you think it can’t get any lower – you know what it can certainly get higher – you just have to talk with somebody,”
For Gaffney and her family, they are making it a mission to help survivors and created 'Kasey's Key', an organization works to help those deal with suicide loss. In four weeks a website will be interactive to provide activities to deal with the grief.