The county’s high suicide rate has helped Community Counseling Center land a grant to provide prevention services in every public middle and high school in the coming school year.
The $12,000 grant from the Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation is coming from Ohio’s Campaign for Hope — Youth Suicide Prevention, a $1.4 million, three-year project. Only at-risk counties qualified.
Unfortunately, Ashtabula County had no problem meeting that requirement. Its 2008 rate of 16.8 suicides per 100,000 persons ranked it ninth in the state. Data from 2011 is even more dismal. There were 22 suicides last year, which would give the county a rate of nearly 22 per 100,000. The data is provided by the
Ashtabula County Coroner’s Office.
Through March of this year, there were six suicides, putting the county on track for an even higher rate in 2012.
The youngest suicide death in 2011 was a 15-year-old. Most of the deaths are white males and the majority are 50 or older. Nevertheless, a very disturbing statistic from the 2011 Ashtabula County Health Needs Assessment indicates that suicide is very much on the minds of the county’s young people.
Among those students surveyed in grades nine through 12, 19 percent said they had contemplated suicide in the previous 12 months. For Ohio, the rate is 13 percent.
“That’s very troublesome,” commented Ashtabula County Health Commissioner Ray Saporito during a planning session with the Ashtabula County Health Needs Assessment Committee last week. The statistics played significantly into the committee’s decision to make mental health one of the top three health care priorities in the county.
The committee will work with existing resources in the county that are already addressing the problem. Kathy L. Regal, chief executive officer of Community Counseling Center, said the Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation’s grant will be part of that effort.
“This was a great fit for our program,” Regal said of the funding, which will be received in July.
Regal said the grant will target youth ages 13 to 18 and provide mental health assessment, crisis intervention and behavioral health counseling in the school or home. The agency estimated that it will serve about 2.75 percent, or about 110, of the 4,015 grades 9-12 students in Ashtabula County. The grant will cover personnel costs, including their transportation.
She said the prevention program is especially valuable because it works with youth in their environment, either home or school. Parents must approve any services and their involvement is encouraged.
“Our goal is to always work with the family,” Regal said. “It is never just the child’s problem, it is the family’s problem.”
In practice, the services will look like this: A bus driver or teacher notices that a student is exhibiting signs of depression, and the adult decides to report this to the principal or guidance counselor, who makes a referral to the CCC resource person in the building.
That professional then contacts the parents of the youth and obtains permission to conduct the screening, which can then lead to providing other services under the grant. Two proven assessment instruments will be used.
Regal said the grant award also includes money for staff training in Columbus and online training for school personnel so they can recognize the signs and symptoms of depression.
CCC also will provide parenting classes under a Family and Children First Council’s grant for $30,400. In previous years, the Children Services Board has been awarded the grant, but Regal said that board will do only the fiscal administration next year. Regal said the classes will offer one more resource in the effort to prevent suicides as parents learn to be more effective.
Community Counseling plans to offer the classes in communities throughout the county.
“We want to be where our families are,” Regal said. “We don’t when them to have to come to us for services.”
At least three new staff members will be added to CCC in order to handle the additional responsibilities under the grants and the overall increased demand for CCC’s services. Interestingly, adding jobs locally strikes at a root issue for many suicides: a poor economy.
“The depression that comes with that, the feeling of hopelessness, where do you go for a job? There’s just not a lot available here,” Regal said, expressing her thoughts on why causes people to end their lives so violently.
Coroner investigators also cite relationship issues as a significant factor among the younger male suicides. Declining health and financial concerns in the “golden years” drive many older people to take that route. In 2001, 13 of the 22 suicides committed in Ashtabula County were 50 or older. CCC recently hosted a seminar for area pastors to learn about this elevated risk among their older members.