As a Buffalo firefighter for the past 24 years, Dan Milovich has witnessed trauma, injury, and destruction, and is often in dangerous situations. Firefighters, like other first responders, often keep their emotions bottled up and may struggle with mental health issues. He describes a culture where boys and men are encouraged to “shake it off,” or told, “you’ll be all right.”
In 2015, he experienced the horror of responding to his brother’s suicide. Milovich tried to handle it on his own, but soon realized he needed help. Now he shares his story to help others who might be struggling with mental health issues.
“The job takes a toll on a lot of guys, and they can’t cope,” Milovich said. “They may turn to alcohol, drugs or abusive behavior. I tell them they don’t have to have a tough guy image.”
September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, an opportunity to share information and describe the efforts in our community to reduce risk, increase help and save lives.
People may not be aware that middle-aged men experience the highest rates of suicide in Erie County as well as across the country. A new men’s mental health public service announcement (PSA), produced by Crisis Services and the Suicide Prevention Coalition of Erie County, will encourage men to speak up and ask for help.
According to Milovich, who participates in the commercial, you have no idea what’s going on in someone’s background, and people should not be ashamed or embarrassed to reach out and ask for help.
“Men are vulnerable for many reasons; the biggest is their silence,” said Jessica C. Pirro, LMSW, chief executive officer, Crisis Services, and vice chair of the Erie County Anti-Stigma Coalition. “Stigma and stereotypes continue to isolate people into the thought that suicide is their only answer.”
According to Pirro, if men feel depressed or are struggling, they tend to turn towards self-medication which puts them at risk. Other risks include impulsive behavior, more access to firearms, and lack of seeking ongoing mental health treatment.
Crisis Services offers 24-hour hotline counselors and a mobile outreach team to help people remain safe from themselves or prevent them from hurting others during a mental health crisis.
According to Pirro, responding to the crisis is not the only answer. With each experience, first responders learn how to enhance prevention strategies. Community education, reducing the stigma of mental illness, and helping people to connect to services will help someone thinking about suicide.
“The more we can make talking about mental health the norm not the exception, we will begin to see risk for suicide decrease,” Pirro said. “We owe it to our community to be present with someone at risk. This will help bring light to them during darkness and paralyzing pain that reduces their ability to seek help.”
Many opportunities exist in the community to learn more and get help for yourself or a loved one. Crisis Services is the agency lead for the Suicide Prevention Coalition, a multidisciplinary stakeholder group providing awareness and training to create a community competent in addressing suicide.
While suicide deaths are rising nationally, for the first time in four years, Western New York has seen an 11% decrease in deaths by suicide. The Suicide Prevention Coalition continues to push this conversation forward. Members trained 3,831 Erie County school personnel in the Suicide Safety for School program. There are a variety of activities throughout September to educate the community about suicide prevention, click here. Members of the Anti-Stigma Coalition also sponsor on-going trainings and seminars to educate people about mental illness.
What can family and friends do for individuals that they fear may try to hurt themselves?
Pirro says ask them directly – “Are you thinking about suicide?” “Are you thinking about killing yourself?”
If they say yes, don’t panic. Ask them what are they feeling, how long have they felt this way and if they have a plan and means to carry out that plan.
“Call Crisis Services at 834-3131 – we can help guide you on what to say and we can talk to your loved one. We can help conduct a safety plan to help them keep safe for the night, the next day etc. until they get linked with ongoing support. If needed, we can see if immediate response is needed by our Mobile Outreach Program,” Pirro said.
She continued, “Just because someone says they are suicidal doesn’t mean they are ready to act on those thoughts. The sooner we can talk about those feelings and help them plan for their safety we are able to reduce the likelihood of emergency intervention.”
In addition to talking about suicide, other warning signs include helplessness and hopelessness, dramatic mood changes, withdrawal from normal activities, increased alcohol and drug use, aggressive behavior, and impulsive or reckless behavior.
If you, or someone you know, are suicidal in Erie County please call Crisis Services at 716-834-3131. Outside of the area, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (toll-free) at 1-800-273-TALK or text GOT5 to the Crisis Text Line 741741