Worcester Co. tackles suicide starting in schools

Officials at the health department in Worcester County, which includes the resort town of Ocean City, Md., know it’s tough to stop depression among its residents, even teenagers, from developing into suicide, Delmarva Now reports.

Voluneers raised about $3,000 at the Sept 26 Out of the Darkness Walk in Ocean City. (Worcester Health)

Here are some of the reasons why it’s tough:

  • It’s a rural community, underserved by mental health professionals
  • It’s a tight-knit community, so mental health problems cause a stigma

“What we realize is some people … who are struggling will never come in for help,” the paper quoted Jennifer LaMade as saying. She serves as the director for planning, quality, and core services at the Worcester County Health Department.

To remove the stigma and encourage teens to seek professional help when they become depressed, the health department in the county has started the “Know the Facts, No Stigma” campaign. Sessions were offered to community members and professionals at a conference on the Eastern Shore in March. Those sessions included Creating a Movement through Student and Community Engagement, Stigma and Aging, LGBTQ, Faith Based, Basics of Bullying, and Stigma in Work and Life.

Statistics surrounding suicide and the build-up to suicide are stark in Worcester County and in the rest of Maryland.

During a 12-month period, 27 percent of Maryland students said they felt “so sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more in a row that they stopped doing some usual activities,” according to the most recent most recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which was administered in 2013. This depression, which impairs normal life functions, can lead to thoughts of suicide, the development of a suicide plan, and suicide.

Local school systems continue to enhance and develop youth suicide prevention and early intervention strategies, especially after last year’s passage of Lauryn’s Law, which mandates suicide prevention training for school counselors, at least every five years.

Suicide prevention campaigns, like the one in Worcester County, also help through collaborations and partnerships with colleges, mental health systems, juvenile justice systems, various community agencies, and nonprofits. Many local school systems are using evidence-based programs to provide gatekeeper training to school staff.

The state’s role in suicide prevention

In October 2009, then-Gov Martin O’Malley issued an executive order that established the Governor’s Commission on Suicide Prevention. Over the course of three years, 21 commissioners brought their professional expertise and personal experiences with suicide and its consequences to bear to make recommendations.

The plan they developed puts forth a strengthened focus on preventing suicide, not only with high risk groups like veterans, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning individuals, and persons who are unemployed, but also at critical high-risk periods, such as following an unsuccessful suicide attempt. Goals of the plan:

  1. Increase and broaden the public’s awareness of suicide, its risk factors, and its place as a serious and preventable public health concern
    • Increase evidence-based or best practice training opportunities for professionals
    • Increase awareness through community education
    • Increase State policy and leadership efforts
  2. Enhance culturally competent, effective, and accessible community-based services and programs
  3. Assure effective services to those who have attempted suicide or others affected by suicide attempt or completion

Lauryn’s law, signed by Gov Larry Hogan in May, is named after Lauryn Santiago, a 15-year-old freshman at Laurel High School in Prince George’s County. Her mother had pushed for the law after Lauryn committed suicide.

Lauryn had been depressed as a result of bullying, her mother has said, and she had sought help from school counselors before taking her own life. But according to Lauryn’s mother, no counselor ever contacted Lauryn to offer any help in the critical month before her suicide. Now 22 states require similar training.

Thus we see an example in Prince George’s County, a more urban setting, of a student who actively sought help but didn’t get it from the school, at least not at a sufficient level. And then we see in Worcester County a problem where officials have to help young people get over the stigma attached to mental health problems in small communities where everyone knows what’s happening in everyone else’s life.

Different solutions for two very different problems here all address the subject of teen suicide. What programs do you think work to help prevent teen suicide?

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more biographical information, see the About page.