Views from the Assembly: State working to eliminate suicide

 By Assemblyman Will Barclay

According to the most recent statistics reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, death by suicide surpassed death by motor vehicle crashes in 2010.

Suicide rates for adults, ages 35-64, increased 28 percent since 1999. A report issued by the National Survey on Drug Use and Health indicates that suicidal behaviors led to 1.1 million suicide attempts, many of which required hospitalizations or medical attention.

In 2010, there were 38,364 suicides in the U.S — an average of 105 each day.

The good news is New York state has one of the lowest suicide rates in the country. However, New York still had 1,514 reported suicides in 2010.

Rates in Upstate and rural areas are generally higher, statistics show.

Suicide is a concern to many. In September, local groups organized to raise awareness about its many effects and provide support to families. Out of the Darkness walks took place as part of Suicide Awareness Month which is in September.

These events help survivors cope with losing a loved one to suicide by letting them connect with others in a similar situation and remember their family and friends together. Several walks took place throughout the region.

There have been some changes at the state level to help lower suicide rates. I wanted use this column to let readers know about these efforts. Raising awareness and being proactive in treating the signs can save lives, and therefore, many efforts center around education.

In June, the governor signed a bill into law that requires the state Division of Veterans’ Affairs to maintain mental health, substance abuse, and physical disabilities portals on its website. This made phone numbers and resources easier to access online.

I was pleased to support this bill in the Assembly. Since the legislation was enacted, crisis information is displayed at the bottom of all web pages within the Division of Veterans’ Affairs website.

One in three Iraq veterans will face depression, anxiety and post traumatic stress disorder. Having access to peer outreach, as well as treatment options is easier now thanks to this legislation.

The state Office of Mental Health announced this month it has developed an iPhone app titled “Safety Plan.” It’s a free app designed to enable quick access if someone feels they are at risk.

It’s customizable as well, and reminds people to select different coping methods before they find themselves in a crisis. It gives users, for example, a reminder to go for a walk, or listen to music, or go to the gym, to help users change their mood. This can be accesses through the iTunes store.

Other measures I support in the Assembly include legislation that would improve awareness and education. One bill (A2497) would require suicide prevention as part of the health education curriculum in secondary education schools.

Another bill I support (A2496), would require colleges and universities to provide incoming and current students with information about depression and suicide prevention.

This literature also would list resources on campus students can go to for help. Many local colleges and universities do so already, but codifying this would ensure that less students fall through the cracks when young adults are making the adjustment to life away from home for the first time. These bills have not passed the Legislature.

The state Office of Mental Health funds the Suicide Prevention Center of New York. Their efforts center around education and training to reduce suicide attempts. They maintain a 24-hour hotline in partnership with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-877-273-TALK.

The public may also contact the agency to be connected with the right services locally at (518) 402-9122 or visit http://www.preventsuicideny.org.

The state also offers many educational resources at http://omh.ny.gov/omhweb/suicide_prevention/resources/. Some readings address the aftermath of a suicide, or living with someone who attempted suicide.

In Oswego County, residents may also call the Oswego Hospital Behavioral Services Division’s 24-hour hotline at 343-8162 for mental health help.

You may also contact your doctor’s office for advice or help accessing local services.

If you have any questions or comments on this or any other state issue, or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office.  My office can be reached by mail at 200 N. Second St., Fulton, New York 13069, by e-mail at barclaw@assembly.state.ny.us or by calling  598-5185.

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