Local advocates work to prevent suicides

Feb 23, 2017

The Suicide Prevention Coalition of Erie County held its first ever stakeholders breakfast in downtown Buffalo on Wednesday. The organization tells WBFO's Senior Reporter Eileen Buckley it is working to reach out to community providers to help prevent suicides. 

Suicide prevention information.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

Erie County Mental Health Commissioner Michael Ranney said teenage suicide rates have held steady in the past couple years due to education efforts, but the rate among middle-aged white males is rising.

"If we see somebody who we're very concerned about, be it a family member or loved one, we need to have that conversation. We need to ask. Some people believe that if you talk about it, it'll make things worse, but essentially, what is most helpful for people who are at risk is support," Ranney said.

Last year, for the first time in four years, there was a slight drop in suicide rates in Erie County, but suicide rates nationwide continue to rise.

"We have targeted specific stakeholders. Schools, the healthcare providers, particularly primary care, where there has been a movement over the last few years, and there continues to be, for more integrated work between primary care and behavioral health," said Ranney.

Lisa Boehringer, a social worker with the Buffalo Schools Crisis Team, said they get calls every week from students contemplating suicide.

The teen suicide rate spiked in the county back in 2011. In response, a school-based program was implemented. Since then there has been a decrease and the rate has remained steady with fewer than four deaths per year.

“In the last two years, we have a curriculum for seventh grade health classes called ‘Life Lines.’ They are learning about suicide prevention and how important it is to help a friend and how to help a friend and how to help themselves, of course, too,” Boehringer explained.

There are student support teams at every city school. Boehringer said city school students face a variety of challenges in their lives that put them at risk. 

Suicide prevention information.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

“We had a case the other day where we had an attempt and the student had told seven of her friends. Out of the seven girls, only one told an adult, and because she told an adult about her friend that got the police over there and saved this girls life," Boehringer said. "She did end up being hospitalized. It’s just a wakeup call that we need more education. These kids need to know it is okay to tell an adult.”

The calls mostly come for high school and middle school students, but sometimes they are even younger.  Suicide can affect children as young as seven years of age. However, nationally and locally, suicide rates are highest among middle-aged, white men.

“In 2016, we saw our first decrease in four years, so we believe that is in part to some of the work we are doing,” said Olivia Retallack, Coordinator of the Suicide Prevention Coalition of Erie County.

The Suicide Prevention Coalition of Erie County held a first-ever Stakeholder meeting Wednesday to share prevention information at the WNED-WBFO studio.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

“The other interesting thing that’s happening in our county [is] our numbers to the crisis hotline have been increasing and we see that as a benefit because it is showing people are reaching out to the resources they may need,” remarked Retallack. 

The Suicide Prevention Coalition of Erie County states that in 2016, more than 500 people were trained to recognize the risk factors and warning signs of suicide.