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Suicide plagues local community

AWARENESS AND PREVENTION:Christina Chandler, Children’s Bureau, at left, and Dana Gault, director of Grant County Systems of Care award grants to local organizations during the Prevent Child Abuse luncheon at Marion’s Ivy Tech campus on Wednesday.

BY Lucas Robinson - lrobinson@chronicle-tribune.com

Community members and leaders are raising funds and conciousness about Child Abuse Awareness month.

On Wednesday, Prevent Child Abuse (PCA) of Grant County held it’s annual luncheon and fundraiser at the Ivy Tech Conference Center. Every year, the luncheon selects a different topic from community suggestions to shape the event around. Past themes have included such topics as opiate addiction and childhood trauma.

This year’s theme, “Juvenile Suicide Awareness and Prevention,” was a topic that, though painful, had with great relevance for Grant County and Indiana.

According to the 2017 Kids Count in Indiana Data Book, the state ranked third highest out of 30 in the number of teenagers who have contemplated suicide and second in the number of teenagers who have made a plan to commit suicide. The state’s overall suicide rate has also steadily increased between 1999 and 2015 from 10.5 to 14.5 percent, according to the Indiana State Department of Health.

“You can’t talk about suicide without thinking about the impact on children,” said Brooke Smith, Co-President of PCA of Grant County.

Along with a catered meal, attendees were able to participate in numerous discussions with those who deal with suicide and it’s emotional impact on families.

Prior to the luncheon, a training session on suicide prevention was conducted with a keynote speech from David Berman, Director of Development for Mental Health America of Indiana (MHAI). In attendance were local public school officials, therapists, police officers and child services employees; all people who “have interactions with children in their professional work,” said Smith.

In his speech, Berman discussed strategies for dealing with children and young people who are potential threats to themselves.

One tip, avoiding the use of the phrase “You’re not suicidal, are you?” was for Berman a particular innocent yet unhelpful way to help the suicidal.

“It’s too judgmental,” he said, “and doesn’t open up the door to conversation.”

Berman also offered a survey of the work done by MHAI in training occupations as diverse as coffee shop baristas and casino employees to assist in suicide prevention.

Indiana is debilitated by numerous factors in its ability to properly address suicide, according to Berman.

Of these, a “drastic shortage in health care providers,” is foremost, he said.

A therapist or social worker with a graduate level degree is paid in Indiana the same as therapists and social workers with bachelor degrees or less in neighboring states, according to Berman.

He said this lack of incentives for health care providers, coupled with factors ranging from Indiana weather to anti-LGBT social views, created a uniquely serious problem of suicide in the state.

“Lots of typical teen pressures are exacerbated,” Berman said. “You combine these things and it’s a lethal combination.”

Berman’s keynote was followed with a panel featuring Berman and others. The panel addressed numerous policy options, such as the role of school resource officers and legally mandating a medical professional contact a suicidal patient within three days of exiting in-patient care.

One panel member, Nellotie Chastain, shared the account of her grandson’s suicide, along with the importance for loved ones to immediately address even slight suggestions of suicide.

Proceeding the panel was a luncheon featuring a presentation by Deputy Police Chief Stephen Dorsey on the suicide statistics of Grant County.

Speaking before 16 candles, marking the 16 suicides in Grant County since January 2017. Dorsey, who lost a cousin to suicide, told the crowd “I am here to tell you death by suicide does not discriminate.”

In Dorsey’s study, spanning from 2014 to 2017, Grant County had a total of 39 suicides, 21 of which were committed with the use of a firearm. In that period, the youngest recorded suicide was a 16-year-old child and the oldest was a 93-year-old male.

Dorsey also referenced two suicides that occurred in the county in 2018, one the suicide of a 10-year-old boy and the other being a murder-suicide involving a 17-year-old boy and his 13-year-old girlfriend.

Dorsey suggested decreasing the amount of time a child spends on social media, citing 3 suicides he’d investigated where the act was broadcast live on Facebook. The Deputy Chief also urged the elimination of stigmas surrounding mental health.

“That stigma may not allow you to move forward and get the help you need,” he said.

Concluding Dorsey’s speech, PCA of Grant County presented numerous grants it was providing to local community organizations. Those grants were given to Ole Miss Preschool – Westview, The Amara House, Hands of Hope, the Marion Housing Authority, Allen Elementary School, the Pregnancy Health Center and The Training Center. Grants were made possible through PCA fundraising events like the luncheon.

On Sunday, April 29, 2018 at 3 p.m., PCA of Grant County will be continuing it’s efforts with a community prayer led by Pastor Al Curtis Green in the Gardens at Matter Park. The event will serve as an information session for the organization and an opportunity for volunteers to get involved.