Editor's Note: This story was written in response to a suggestion by Cathy Hancock though Open Source. She asked: "How about a story on NAMI Richland County, they have a great suicide prevention program that they take into the schools, the family-to-family education program and educating and advocating for family and friends with mental illness is very noteworthy."
MANSFIELD — The state of Ohio is in the midst of a mental health-crisis, but Richland County has several organizations working to combat it.
According to the Ohio Department of Health, the state's rate of suicide increased 44.8 percent over the span of 2007 to 2018, equalling 1,836 reported suicides in 2018. In Richland County, there have been 46 reported suicides over the previous three years; 15 in 2017, 22 in 2018 and nine in 2019.
While suicide is most common among older males in Ohio, suicide is the leading cause of death among Ohioans aged 10 through 14 and second leading cause of death among Ohioans aged 15 to 34, according to the Ohio Department of Health.
The suicide rate - the number of deaths of suicide per 100,000 populations - has increase by 56 percent among Ohioans aged 10 through 24 over the course of the decade.
"I'm a nurse and a family member and a professional that's worked in helping families with mental health issues for over 20 years," said Mary Kay Pierce, executive director at the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in Mansfield. "I don't know all the reasons why (suicides happen), but I do know it's happening, and we have to address it."
She added that while the bulk of young males are showing up more frequently in suicide rates, mental health issues can appear in any age group, male or female.
NAMI, as well as several area agencies have programs in place to reach out to individuals.
"We just want people to know that they're not alone," said Pierce. "If you call this number (419-522-4357 or text "4Hope" to 741741), we share these resources with you. We have a wealth of agencies that help. We just want to make sure the community knows they're not alone and we'll do our best to get them the help they need."
NAMI concentrates on prevention, education and support groups, coming alongside families who have loved ones with depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia - focused mainly on adolescence, but they can focus on all the above.
Crisis intervention team officers in Richland County are trained to help in a mental health crisis, too. Those in need can always call 9-1-1 and ask for a CIT officer, Pierce said.
The NAMI family-to-family education program is a free multi-session education course, open to adult family members and friends of those with mental illness. Attendees can gain practical, up-to-date information about mental health conditions, learn problem solving techniques and find community support in a confidential setting.
The newest program NAMI has started is the Ending the Silence campaign.
With this program, a NAMI mental health expert and a young adult who has or had mental health issues in the past come to school districts and present for 50 minutes to 20 to 30 students in a classroom.
Education is the best way to end the stigma about mental illness, said Pierce.
"I really liked it," said Amy Kurtz-Nagel, a school social worker at the Ontario School District. "It was well planned. It is super important and the young adult was super relatable."
The Ending the Silence campaign started six months ago nationally. Pierce said the Mansfield NAMI began reaching out to schools in November of 2019.
"(Students) respond better to people they relate to," Kurz-Nagel said of the Ontario presentation, which happens each semester in the freshman health class. "You could see them really connect when the young adult shares their story."
After the most recent presentation, students were asked to take an exit survey.
Below are some of the comments from the survey. Names are not included with the quotes:
Students also were given rubber bracelets with the mental health crisis hotline phone number on etched on them. Kurtz-Nagel said many students still wear them.
"It really has been a great program for them," Kurtz-Nagel said. "We have many students who struggle with trauma and anxiety. For them to be able to see someone who has had those issues and talk about overcoming them and being told of hotlines they can text is very helpful."