Six members of the Pennsylvania National Guard have died by suicide so far this year. The impact of COVID-19 on mental health has proven to be far-reaching.
HARRISBURG, Pa. — State leaders are turning their focus to another public health crisis. Suicide is one of the top ten leading causes of death in the country, claiming more than twice as many lives as homicides each year.
World Suicide Prevention Day, recognized on September 10, hits close to home for many Pennsylvanians, including the Adjutant General of Pennsylvania, Major General Anthony Carrelli.
“Just three days ago, we had another suicide amongst our National Guardsmen here in Pennsylvania and every one of these is absolutely tragic,” said Major General Carrelli, who heads the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.
Six members of the Pennsylvania National Guard have died by suicide so far this year. The crisis has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. According to a survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 40 percent of adults reported considerably elevated adverse mental health conditions associated with COVID-19.
“I think the single most important thing to do is to reach out for help,” said Dr. Matthew Wintersteen, executive board member of Prevent Suicide PA.
In 2018, 2,017 people in Pennsylvania died by suicide—a 43.3 percent increase from the year before. A statewide Suicide Prevention Task Force has released a four-year plan to raise awareness and normalize the conversation around suicide and mental health.
“By having this conversation about suicide, by having this many cabinet secretaries and members of the legislature, advocates in the media here, talking about suicide and talking about their own struggles, I believe that we can inspire other people to do the same,” said State Representative Mike Schlossberg, who represents Lehigh County.
The Task Force is comprised of leadership from Prevent Suicide PA, members of the General Assembly, and the departments of Human Services (DHS), Health (DOH), Corrections (DOC), Aging (PDA), Education (PDE), Military and Veterans Affairs (DMVA), Transportation (PennDOT), Agriculture (PDA), Drug and Alcohol Programs (DDAP), the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD), and the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP).
The Statewide Suicide Prevention Plan focuses on eight specific goals including ways to reduce the stigma, increase training and education on suicide and mental health, improve data collection for suicide and support treatment to help those who are silently suffering.
• Goal 1: Reduce stigma and promote safety, help-seeking, and wellness by increasing suicide awareness and prevention education.
• Goal 2: Promote trauma-informed approaches to support all Pennsylvania residents as part of our suicide prevention efforts by coordinating with Pennsylvania’s Trauma-Informed Care Task Force.
• Goal 3: Provide quality training on the prevention of suicide and management of suicide risk across multiple sectors and settings.
• Goal 4: Promote screening to identify individuals at risk for suicide across sectors, including health care, behavioral health, educational and correctional settings.
• Goal 5: Promote and implement effective clinical and professional practices for assessing and treating those identified as at risk for suicidal behaviors.
• Goal 6: Provide trauma-informed care and support to individuals affected by suicide deaths or attempts to promote healing.
• Goal 7: Promote safety among individuals with identified suicide risk, including firearms safety and awareness of the relationship between opioids and other substances to increased risk of suicide.
• Goal 8: Improve the capacity to utilize data reporting systems relevant to suicide and improve the ability to collect, analyze, and use the information in a timely manner so we can inform further suicide prevention efforts.
If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health or feelings of hopelessness, help is always available:
• The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.
• The Spanish-language National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-888-628-9454
• For the Mental Health Crisis Text Line: Text “PA” to 741-741
• Support and Referral Helpline: 1-855-284-2494. For TTY, dial 724-631-5600.
These free resources are available 24/7. If you are concerned about someone else’s well-being, these resources can help you be a life-saving assistance. No matter what you are going through, help is available.
“No matter what seat you sit in, a Representative, a Secretary, a bartender, your mom, dad, aunt, or uncle,” said James Stafford, a Certified Peer Specialist at Supportive Services for Veteran Families. “Often times, you don’t know what your family members have gone through until someone starts the conversation.”
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