On Thursday, the Board of County Commissioners proclaimed September as Suicide Prevention Awareness Month coinciding with National Suicide Prevention Month. We’re all too aware of suicide. It strikes often and it strikes hard, taking more than just a single life, but also taking away a sibling or a spouse or a parent or a close friend and certainly taking away any chance at a happy and productive second act.
The proclamation notes that suicide is the 10th-leading cause of death in the United States and the second-leading cause of death among those aged 10 to 34. Nearly 45,000 die by suicide each year nationally and 586 died by suicide in Maryland last year alone. It is the only leading cause of death that has increased every year for the past decade and it is estimated that there are over 1.1 million suicide attempts each year.
“It’s tough to find a family, unfortunately, or someone who hasn’t been touched by this,” Commissioner President Stephen Wantz, R-District I, said at Thursday’s meeting. “I’ve got to tell you, this is a tough one. .... Out of the blue, it can occur without any signs. ... About a year ago, when we first got statistics on the youth suicide rate here in the county, all of us went back in our chairs, like, ‘Wait, what?’ Because we are one of the highest, if not the highest.”
In Carroll County, the number of suicide deaths has fluctuated between 19 and 30 per year since 2012, with at least 164 suicides in total during that time, according to still-preliminary data from the Carroll County Health Department. After a peak of 30 deaths in 2014, the number dipped to 19 in 2015, but has been climbing every year since, with 26 suicides in 2018.
Many in our community have come up with strategies and are working tirelessly to do something about these grim statistics. In 2019, the Carroll County Health Department made suicide prevention a part of the agency’s strategic plan, and in April launched the Suicide Prevention Coalition, according to Co-Chair Adrienne Sanders.
That coalition quickly recognized that Carroll County needed more support groups for people who had lost someone to suicide, according to Sanders. Groups like “The Triple S Group,”which meets on the first and third Saturday of each month at Wesley Freedom United Methodist Church, in Sykesville. Beginning in October, Lori Barnard-Lowe will be facilitating a similar group, but one focused on youth who have lost a loved one to suicide. She told us it will be called Teen Talks, for those in eighth grade through high school, held at the Carroll County Youth Service Bureau.
The coalition is also working with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and other organizations to bring trainings to the community, such as the foundation’s SafeTALK program, which Sanders said she hopes will become a monthly program at the Health Department. "It’s a 45-minute presentation and it’s basically showing people what to look for, the signs of suicide and how to help someone who is showing them,” Barnard-Lowe told us.
And from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Oct. 1, the Youth Service Bureau will host More Than Sad, a program on mental health and suicide for parents looking to better understand how to help their child who may be struggling with mental illness.
Last weekend, the fourth annual Carroll County Out of the Darkness Walk brought more than 850 people Woodbine’s Krimgold Park to raise funds — more than $95,000 so far, for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention — and awareness. That’s up from 156 walkers the year before. “I am so happy our walk did so well, but I am kind of sad that it did so well because we’ve had so many losses,” Barnard-Lowe, co-chair of the event, told us. “We have lost a lot of kids in the county this year.”
We don’t want to lose any more. We encourage everyone to get involved in prevention and awareness efforts, and to listen to Carroll County Health Officer Ed Singer, who noted at the meeting that people have to understand it’s OK to talk about mental health issues, especially suicide prevention. “You’re not alone. There’s help available for you,” he said.
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Indeed. Please use the resources available. For those in immediate need, there are the Carroll County Mobile Crisis team at 410-952-9552, the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 and the Maryland Crisis Hotline, at 1-800-422-0009. For more information on the Teen Talk support group call 240-674-4538 or email email@example.com. For more information on the Oct. 1 More than Sad suicide prevention program call 443-244-8641 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. And for more information on Talk Safe visit the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention website, www.afsp.org.