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County Hall Corner: Suicide is Not Painless

At the Lycoming County Commissioners Meeting on Thursday, August 31st, the commissioners made a proclamation that they have done for the past few years. They declared September as Suicide Prevention Month. It will take more than a decree to turn around this terrible source of death.

In acknowledging the importance of this proclamation was Lycoming County Coroner Chuck Kiessling, who gave the sad news that the county is yet again going through a rough year with respect to individuals taking their own lives. Seventeen individuals have done so this year in our county, and it seems that there will be no end in sight.

Covering these meetings for the past number of years, I have heard Coroner Kiessling give these morbid statistics before, but he added something different at this recent meeting. Kiessling noted that suicide is different than any other death. As tragic as death itself is, we all recognize that there are fatal results due to disease or health issues, road accidents, homicides, and such. These happen because of circumstances that just happen.

But as Kiessling noted, suicide could be prevented. It is the individual themselves making the decision that this will be the end of their life. It is possible that they could change their mind about dying. And sources are available, such as calling 988, which is the suicide and crisis lifeline. For those who suspect that they know someone who seems to be leaning toward suicide can go to, which has lots of info that can assist in helping the troubled person.

Another important point that Kiessling noted that is often missed in this tragic area is the impact that it has on others. Kiessling noted that as many as one hundred people must deal with the aftermath of a suicide. This was evidenced when Commissioner Metzger noted that he had five friends who committed suicide. One of these happened to be his best friend, who had committed suicide twenty years ago. Metzger is not often emotional in public, but he was when he shared this story. His voice almost drifted away as he said, “You don’t know what goes inside those people’s heads.”
Metzger is right that we cannot get inside of the head, but we can see what is going on outside. The key is to recognize behavioral change. A person contemplating suicide generally displays symptoms such as increased helplessness, anxiety, agitation, sleeplessness, mood swings, drug and alcohol abuse, anger, or risky activity without thinking. But a real danger signal is if the person begins to withdraw from family and friends and begins to give away their possessions.

Be especially alert if a troubled person has a friend or even knows someone who has committed suicide. Suicides seem to be contagious. Researchers call it “suicide clusters.” Studies have shown that a person is four times more likely to commit suicide if they personally know someone who committed suicide.

If these warning signs are showing up, seek help for this person. If there is not a convenient access to a mental health professional, then start by calling 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433) or the Lycoming County Crisis Intervention at 570-326-7895 or Clinton County Crisis Intervention at 570-2262. Life is worth living.