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Ohio State-sponsored conference hopes to address ‘silent epidemic’ of youth suicide

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Clark Flatt, Founder and President of the Jason Foundation Inc., spoke at the Ohio Union about youth suicide on May 13, 2016. | Credit: Mitch Hooper, Engagement Editor

Clark Flatt, Founder and President of the Jason Foundation Inc., spoke at the Ohio Union about youth suicide on May 13, 2016. | Credit: Mitch Hooper, Engagement Editor

In the ongoing campaign to lower nationwide suicide rates to zero, the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services and the OSU Harding Behavioral Health’s Stress, Trauma, and Resilience Program hosted the 2016 Suicide Prevention Conference addressing youth suicide.

The symposium, “Suicide and the Family,” was held in the Ohio Union on Friday.

Speakers cited increasing awareness, dispelling the common myths of suicide and educating families as actions the nation needs to take in order to lower the national youth-suicide rate. Speakers also discussed signs of concerns for suicide, coping with the loss of a loved one and initiatives working on lowering the national rate.

Clark Flatt, founder and president of The Jason Foundation, Inc, spoke at the conference on what he calls “a silent epidemic” that he said impacts thousands of people each year. After losing his 16-year-old son Jason to suicide in 1997, Flatt created the JFI as an organization dedicated to raising education on youth suicide nationwide.

He noted each generation has its own silent epidemic, dating back to teen pregnancy in the 1960s, drugs and alcohol in the 1980s and currently suicide. Although a common myth about suicide is that it’s an impulse decision, 80 percent of suicidal individuals will show warning signs, according to the Washington State Department of Health.

“It’s not a virus,” Flatt said to the conference. “But the results are the same.”

While Ohio’s suicidal death per year rate ranks 12th fewest nationwide, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recorded nearly 1,500 suicides in 2014. Other states across the country, such as Montana and Alaska, average a much higher suicide rate, but suicide is still the third leading cause of death among youth ranging from 10-24 in Ohio according to the CDC.

The conference also addressed the grief faced by families affected by suicide.

“A person’s death is not only an ending: it is also a beginning for the survivors,” said Katherine Shear, using a quote from Edwin Shneidman, author of “The Suicidal Mind,” to address the impacts of grief and depression on the family after a suicide.

Following the death of a loved one, Shear, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University said grief is one of the many natural responses. Although grief and depression both encompass the feeling of sadness, Shear said the two conditions are separate.

She said she believes in addressing grief with psychotherapy rather than medication, as grief impacts an individual’s mental, physical and social well-being, causing those grieving individuals to consider suicide as well.

“It takes a while to accept the finality of a loss and begin grieving,” Shear said.

Before speakers took the stage in Performance Hall, Ohio Sen. Rob Portman spoke in a video message on the topic of drug addiction and suicide. He went on to say winning the battle on suicide will take efforts from everyone.

“It’s not going to be won in Washington,” Portman said in the video recording. “It can help, but it will be won in your communities.”

Portman co-authored the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act, a bill targeting education and treatment regarding heroin and painkiller abuse. It was recently passed 94-1 in the Senate.

While the ultimate goal for those involved in ending suicide is to lower the national suicide rate to zero, Mark Hurst, medical director at the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, said factors such as access to medication and treatment along with a lower unemployment rate has helped lower suicide rates. He also said suicide holds major importance to society as preservation of life is priority No. 1.

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