BERLIN – When Kevin Hines jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge he knew it was a mistake and was fortunate to end up one of only 32 people to survive the fall. Beforehand he’d been on the bridge waiting for someone to say something that would help him to change his mind. He was obviously distraught and had been crying but the only person who spoke to him was a tourist who asked him to take a photo.
Hines’ survival and recuperation led him to a life of advocacy for suicide prevention, trying to get the word out that anyone can be a lifesaver if they’re not afraid to ask the right questions. This week he’ll speak both at Salisbury University and as part of the Worcester County Health Department-sponsored Suicide Prevention Conference at the Clarion Fontainbleau Resort in Ocean City.
Jennifer LaMode, L.G.S.W., who is the director of the Core Service Agency for the health department said one of the most difficult things to overcome in helping people recognize the signs of depression and suicidal thoughts in the people around us is the stigma associated with mental health issues.
Simply asking a person if they’re feeling OK can be the difference between whether they seek help or not and overcoming the fear of asking is everyone’s responsibility.
She said that she and several people members of the conference’s partner agencies, saw Hines speak at a conference and decided he would be a critical part of their own conference.
Alisa Crockett, who supervises the health department’s suicide prevention program, said that the most important aspect of suicide prevention is knowing the signs and responding to them. The program focuses on helping children and young adults ages 10-25 who have been identified as at-risk by their doctors, teachers, family or members of law enforcement.
“Suicide is oftentimes preventable if you know how to look for the signs,” she said. Teachers, coaches, and friends can be a huge help to people who are having suicidal thoughts.
LeMade said that the conference is designed for lay people as well as public service professionals. The hope is to de-stigmatize discussing mental health problems among peers and show people how it is possible to talk honestly and openly with people about whom one might be concerned.
The conference is only part of the continuing push the health department is making to try to eliminate suicides. Between 2007-2009, the most recent statistical reporting period for suicides, 63 people in Worcester, Somerset and Wicomico counties successfully committed suicide and the number of unreported or unsuccessful attempts is likely much higher. More than one-third of the successful suicides occurred in 2009 and of the 63 total, 51 were male. The most common method was firearms, followed by hanging or asphyxiation, overdose and other.
In addition to providing counseling services for those who have already sought help, Crockett’s department runs regular classes aimed at helping both professionals and laypeople identify symptoms that might indicate suicidal thoughts in a person.
For more information on the health department’s suicide prevention programs contact the mental health program at 410-629-0164.