Suicide out of the shadows

John Christensen
Luminaries on the steps of Norton Chapel at Keuka College in recognition of those who have attempted or committed suicide.

It is estimated that over 1 million people in America attempt suicide each year. Officially, only 42,773 succeeded in 2014. That number reflects only those deaths reported as suicides, but the real number is believed to be far greater, and the true weight and cost of suicide is obscured by mislabeling and under reporting.

George A. Roets, Yates County’s Director of Community Services, reports that suicide is the second leading cause of death for 15-24 year olds, and is the 10th leading cause of death for people of all ages. “Each person’s death by suicide intimately affects at least six other people, with over 200,000 newly bereaved each year.” says Roets. “An estimated 4.8 million Americans are survivors of suicide of a friend, family member, or loved one.”

With September recognized as Suicide Awareness Month, both Yates County and Keuka College have made efforts to bring the true causes and costs of suicide into the open, and to bring hope and help for those who are in danger of taking their own lives.

Keuka College’s “One Walk” was formed seven years ago, with the purpose of suicide prevention, and is coordinated by the Center for Spiritual Life and the Health and Counseling Center. College Chaplain Eric Detar says, “This year, Coexist (a spiritual/religious based club on campus) and other offices of Student Affairs assisted with the event,” with help from the Branchport-Keuka Park Fire Dept. to raise awareness about suicide, discuss suicide prevention, share resources available to those struggling with suicide, and remember those who have died by suicide. The event has evolved to include a three-mile reflection walk, where participants stop every 12 minutes on the walk to learn a fact about suicide, to pause for a moment of silence, and to remember those persons who have died by suicide. In all, 48 students and staff walked in five groups from Penn Yan to the college along the Lower West Lake Road, stopping at intervals marked by yellow carnations. On returning to Norton Chapel, students signed an “I pledge to...” banner to make the community an open, safe place for people to talk, heard slam poetry by Matt Dreitlein, and stood vigil, lighting luminaries and naming the persons who have died by suicide.

The tragedy of a young person taking their own life gains our attention most often, but to Roets, suicide is a community public health problem. “It shows no preference for age, race, ethnicity, economic class, or social status,” he says. “The elderly make up 14.5 percent of the population, but comprise 18 percent of all suicides.”

He says Yates County loses four to five people to suicide each year. “At the same time, we have 14-15 hospitalizations after a suicide attempt, says Roets. “We can add to the number of attempts, those that do not end up being hospitalized. That number is estimated at an additional 100 individuals.”

Beyond the personal tragedy of suicide, there are financial costs to the community that warrant attention. According to Roets, the average medical cost of a suicide in New York State is over $5,500, and the medical cost of a hospitalized suicide attempt is more than $12,550; much of that becoming a community cost. “Each suicide or attempt in a branch of government, a religious community, the hospital, or our schools causes disruption, upset and undermines performance,” says Roets. “Our families suffer emotionally, socially, economically and psychologically. Our businesses also suffer. The average work loss associated with a hospitalized attempt is over $14,000. The permanent loss of talent and expertise is immeasurable.”

With a goal of making Yates County a “Suicide Safer Community,” Roets is leading the formation of the Yates Suicide Prevention Coalition. “We want a community directed effort to meet the suicide safer community goal. Please consider joining this effort, all are welcome; there is a role for everyone,” He says.

Contact: 315-536-5115 or 607-481-0538 for information.

George A. Roets R.N.M.S.

Yates County Community Services

417 Liberty St.

Penn Yan, N.Y. 14527