Suicide is a growing health problem. Suicide not only affects the individual person, but their entire support network including family, friends, and community.
Data collected through the New York State Department of Health Connector, shows Niagara County as having a high suicide death rate of 14.2 per 100,000 populations compared to 8.8 per 1000,000 in New York State. This rate is higher than most other NYS counties. Veterans, youth, BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and Persons of Color), LBGTQ, and rural communities within Niagara County are significantly impacted. While CDC data from 2020 reflects a two-year decline, the rate of suicide in communities across America has risen for two decades and remains 30% higher than the year 2000 rate.
It is for this reason that the Niagara County Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse has reignited its efforts to convene the County’s Suicide Prevention Coalition. The mission of the Coalition is to develop and implement suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention strategies through public education, access to services, as well as to promote awareness, and provide support to our residents.
National data collected by the Center for Disease Control (CDC, 2020) report that females accounted for almost a quarter of all suicide deaths and were highest among multiracial females. Males accounted for approximately 79% of all suicide deaths and were highest among Hispanic males. Among other ethnic groups, overall rates of suicide were highest among American Indian, White, and Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islanders. Additionally, those 85 years and older followed by ages 75-84 and 25-34 years were most affected. Among males and females aged 15-24 and 25-34 suicides were most prevalent in those that identified as BIPOC. Rural counties experienced the highest rates of suicide when compared to large central and fringe metro areas.
Although national trends are useful to understand the scope and complexity of this issue, each state and county possess characteristics that are unique unto them. For instance, in Niagara County, males account for 87.8% of all completed suicides. Of those, white men between the ages of 55-64 are most affected.
Veterans comprise 7% of the population and accounted for 18.3% of all suicides 2015-2017. Youth between the ages of 10-24 were also significantly impacted and accounted for 42.7% of all outreaches to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline/text line (2013-2022).
Over the last six months, the Department has reached out to key stakeholders, through surveys and focus groups, to garner their expertise and perspectives surrounding the scope of the issue with the goal of understanding the diverse needs and thoughts of Niagara County residents pertaining to suicide. This resulted in the identification of many salient points that will be used to guide the development of prevention strategies over the next 18 months, including:
The community at-large is aware of current efforts to prevent suicide. However, efforts to expand awareness and facilitate connection to existing resources, particularly with specific vulnerable populations, is extremely necessary.
Prevention efforts should reflect the diversity of its community.
Expand opportunities for individuals with lived experience in suicide prevention efforts.
Grow service offerings with an emphasis on culture.
To positively impact prevention efforts, the barriers that exist to seeking help need to be understood and acted upon. Focus group participants cited transportation, financial costs to treatment, time between an initial referral and appointment, and the availability of services all as significant barriers. Stigma and fear were the most commonly cited reasons for not accessing treatment. Fear of being singled out by others, going to the hospital or encountering law enforcement, and causing embarrassment to family members and/ or their communities were mentioned across all individuals surveyed regardless of ethnicity, age, or background. Participants expressed thoughts such as
“Someone else needs more help than I do” and “I am the help, I don’t seek help.”
On February 15, Niagara County convened a Call-to-Action Day. The virtual event brought 65 attendees from various sectors of the community together to discuss the advancement of prevention work. Highlights included powerful personal narrations of lived experience from suicide loss survivors, Julie Israel, of Save the Michaels, and Diane Rocco, Founder, Shaun Rocco Foundation. Their joint messages reverberated the importance of connection with other loss survivors and focusing prevention efforts to provide as
“Thoughts of suicide can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, or background. And, although the topic can be difficult to talk about, having open and honest conversations about suicide can help raise awareness and may save a life.”
Niagara County Mental Health Department