LIVINGSTON COUNTY – The Livingston County Suicide Task Force works around the clock to make people more comfortable talking about suicide.
Lynne Mignemi, a founding member and administrator for the Task Force, says that the vast majority of suicide cases are due to an untreated or undertreated mental health condition. The Task Force’s priority is to defeat suicide’s stigma and get people to speak up when they notice potential signs or symptoms in others, just like they would if a friend showed signs or symptoms of any other medical condition.
“The analogy I use over and over is diabetes,” said Mignemi. “There are signs and symptoms. Some cases of diabetes can be treated with a change in diet and exercise. Some need additional services and medication. And some people don’t make it. Some people die. But many, many people live. Would you rather have an uncomfortable conversation about ‘I care about you, I’m concerned about your health, I think you should call this number’ or would you rather look back and wish you had because you cared about that person’s life?”
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention AFSP, a top authority on national suicide statistics, research and treatment options, says that there is no single cause for suicide, but there are warning signs.
“Something to look out for when concerned that a person may be suicidal is a change in behavior or the presence of entirely new behaviors,” says the AFSP. “This is of sharpest concern if the new or changed behavior is related to a painful event, loss, or change. Most people who take their lives exhibit one or more warning signs, either through what they say or what they do.”
The AFSP has an inexhaustive list of examples of warning signs.
It is a warning sign if someone talks about: being a burden to others; feeling trapped; experiencing unbearable pain; having no reason to live; or killing themselves.
It is a warning sign if a person’s behavior changes like: increased use of alcohol or drugs; looking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching online for materials or means; acting recklessly; withdrawing from activities isolating from family and friends; sleeping too much or too little; visiting or calling people to say goodbye; giving away prized possessions; or aggression.
It is a warning sign if someone’s mood changes to: depression; loss of interest; rage; irritability; humiliation; or anxiety.
Mignemi reminds all that there is always help. The AFSP’s 24-7 crisis hotline is 1-800-273 TALK (8255). The AFSP’s crisis text line is 741-741. For college students, SUNY Geneseo’s 24-hour crisis lines are (585) 275-5151 and 800-310-1160. University Police are available at (585) 245-5222. SUNY Geneseo’s Health & Counseling is available from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at (585) 245-5716 for students to schedule a confidential appointment.
“The conversation is key. Say ‘I care about you.’ Say ‘I’m worried about you.’ Say ‘Are you having thoughts about hurting yourself?'” said Mignemi. “The conversation that I have a lot with people is, ‘If you were in my position, could you give me some numbers of people to talk to for services?’ Some people are afraid that the person will become angry, or that they will do harm. But a lot of the time, that conversation opens the door to letting people know that you care about them and that you’re in it with them.”
There are also ways to take action. The Livingston County Suicide Task Force meets the fourth Tuesday of each month at 2:45 p.m. at the Livingston County Government Center at 6 Court Street, Room 303. SUNY Geneseo students just had an Out of the Darkness Walk to prevent suicide on April 23.
“We had a mom who lost a son to suicide come to Task Force meetings,” said Mignemi. “She’s on our email list and comes in and out as she feels she’s emotionally able to. She helps with our walks for suicide prevention, as many others do.”
Livingston County’s suicide rates are still some of the highest in the state. Mignemi said that in Livingston County in 2016, there were eight confirmed cases of death by suicide and 12 cases pending confirmation.
Geneseo Police Chief Eric Osganian said that there is a surge in suicide and self-harm calls during this time of year, in April and May. These cases in general are on the rise. In 2006, 2007 and 2008 respectively, there were 13, 11 and 23 ‘mental health arrests’ where people were transported to a hospital because they were believed to be a threat to themselves or others. In 2014, 2015 and 2016, there were 43, 22 and 38 mental health arrests. Osganian says that about 25 percent of these mental health arrests are college students.
“Every time we hear of a death, we’re devastated,” said Mignemi. “It’s preventable. Familiarize yourself with the AFSP, gatekeeper and mental health first aid training to get yourself more comfortable starting a conversation, and don’t be afraid to have that conversation. Just know that there is help out there.”