News Article Details

Forum speaker: Suicide a health issue, is preventable

Cumberland Times-News - 4/27/2018

April 27--CUMBERLAND -- Dozens of residents, educators, health care professionals and local officials gathered at Allegany College of Maryland on Wednesday evening to learn about suicide prevention.

The public forum was sponsored by District 1C Del. Mike McKay, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and Ivy MacKereth, who served as a student page in the Maryland General Assembly.

MacKereth, a senior at Fort Hill High School, suggested the event to McKay after the recent suicides of three local young people.

"It was very disheartening, honestly," Mackereth said Wednesday. "It was really upsetting for everyone."

Kat Olbrich, director of the Maryland chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, who was the event's keynote speaker, said one suicide impacts at least 100 people.

"So that is your immediate family, your friends, your school, your church, whatever club you're part of -- so there's a way bigger effect than we often think," she said.

And pretty much everyone is at risk, Olbrich said.

The foundation is the largest private funder of suicide prevention research. Data it has collected show "there's not one single cause" for death by suicide, Olbrich said.

"It's not bullying, it's not somebody has debt, it's not just a mental health disorder," she said. "It's always several things that have to come together at the same time and push someone over the edge."

A national health care issue that kills nearly 45,000 Americans annually, Olbrich said death by suicide results from a combination of health issues like depression, substance abuse and chronic pain; environmental factors such as access to firearms, prolonged stress or exposure to suicide; and historical factors like family history of suicide, childhood trauma and abuse.

"There's always more than one simple story to a suicide," Olbrich said.

"Suicide is a health issue, just like diabetes and just like heart disease, and that's how we should treat it, and that's how we should talk about it," she said. "Just like diabetes and heart disease, it's preventable."

Olbrich said nine out of 10 people who die by suicide have a mental health condition, and proper care is one way to prevent suicide. Those conditions include depression, anxiety disorder and bipolar disorder.

She said one in four people will suffer from a mental health condition over their lifetime and only two in five people will seek mental health care because of the stigma.

"Nobody wants to be the crazy one, and that needs to change. We want people to be able to speak out about their mental health care," Olbrich said, adding, it should be like talking about having a heart attack.

Other ways to prevent death by suicide is to keep firearms and medications secure and recognizing when someone is withdrawing from activities or suffering from mood changes, he said.

Sue Maskaleris, a foundation board member who is chair of the Advocacy and Public Policy Committee, said warning signs may be hard to spot.

Her father died by suicide when she was 14.

"We sometimes have this stereotype where depression equals sadness and that's not always the case," she said. "People can be very jolly, they can be the class clown, but underneath they may be hiding their true feelings."

"Reach out, ask, become that safe person," she said. "Ask, 'Are you thinking of suicide?' You will become that safe person, because they've wanted to talk to someone but they're afraid."

Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK

Crisis Text Line: 741-741

Follow staff writer Heather Wolford on Twitter @heatherbwolford.


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