By PETER H. MILLIKEN
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
CANFIELD -- A coordinated approach is needed to ensure that health and mental-health professionals and the public are ready to intervene quickly to prevent suicides, experts said in a local forum.
"In public health, our primary mission is to increase the number of healthy, productive years of life that all of us live," said Matthew Stefanak, Mahoning County health commissioner.
Mahoning County averages 30 suicides a year, he said. Eleven of the 29 Mahoning County suicides in 1999 were among people 65 and older, he added.
Health professionals should be taught to identify suicide risk factors when they screen patients suffering from chronic illness or depression, Stefanak said. Guns were used to commit 24 of the 29 suicides in 1999, he said, emphasizing the need to explore "ways to remove that instrument -- that firearm -- out of the reach of the individual contemplating suicide."
The forum, held Wednesday at the Ursuline Center, was attended by about 20 people, including public-health officials, mental-health agency directors, police and emergency room personnel and relatives of suicide victims.
It focused on local initiatives to carry out a call from U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher and state officials to address the problem.
Hesitance: "People hesitate to ask for help, and people who are concerned about others hesitate to give it," said Linda Karlovec, a Columbus psychologist and chairwoman of the Ohio Coalition for Suicide Prevention. If someone talks about committing suicide, she advises expressing concern and immediately accompanying that person to a mental-health professional.
Last year, Help Hotline of Youngstown received more than 2,900 calls from Mahoning and Columbiana county residents who said they were contemplating committing suicide, said Cathy Grizinski, associate director of the agency, which is observing its 30th anniversary.
Help Hotline is a 24-hour telephone crisis-intervention, suicide-prevention, information and referral agency that operates a support group for families of suicide victims.
"One of the things we want to encourage is help-seeking behaviors," such as going to counseling, said Melinda Moore, coalition executive director.
The highest risk groups for suicide are adolescents, who lack life experience in coping with adversities; men between the ages of 26 and 44, who are under pressure to succeed and support their families and tend not to seek counseling; and senior citizens, who often suffer from chronic health problems coupled with depression, she added.