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Reflecting on suicide prevention on the North Shore

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Question, persuade and refer. Those were the three words highlighted in a Tuesday night virtual class hosted by the Bayville Free Library, where Barbara Tedesco and Gayle Parker Wright of United Health Care led participants through a technique called QPR that could save someone from dying by suicide.

The subject matter is crucial because nationwide, 48,000 people die annually of suicide. And as suicide rates have risen during the pandemic, along with those reporting that they are struggling with their mental health [see sidebar], Glen Cove leaders are reminding residents that there is always help for an individual or their loved one.

Chief William Whitton explained that the Glen Cove Police Department is always willing to check on people or even talk with those who may be struggling.

“Someone should call when they feel hopeless or if they, in fact, have a family member they’re concerned about if they want us to do a wellness check,” Whitton said. “It does happen time to time and we make contact with the person that the family member is concerned about and we engage them in conversation and check on their mental wellbeing.”

If the officers are concerned enough, Whitton explained, under the New York State Mental Hygiene Law, they would compel the person to seek treatment in a hospital. The GCPD also partners with the Nassau County Mobile Crisis Team, which consists of licensed professional social workers and nurses trained to help individuals and their family struggling with their mental health.

“We’ll put a call out to them and at that time they’ll come and assist us in determining whether a person is just feeling a little down or if there is something more going on and they need help,” Whitton said.

Whitton said the GCPD has not received an increase in calls relating to suicide, rather more calls relating to other mental health concerns. He said he is especially concerned for the elderly who have been facing prolonged isolation in order to protect their health.

“Everybody is inside now, especially with the weather and the pandemic, so people feel isolated and thank God for computers, but some people do not have computers,” said Sherri Meagher, a social worker at the Glen Cove Senior Center. “We try and reach out to people on the telephone but it’s important for families and neighbors and friends to check in on people to see how they’re doing and just to be checking in.”

Until life can go back to normal, Meagher wanted to remind those over the age of 60 living in Nassau County that the Glen Cove Senior Center is still active, despite the facility being closed. There are currently programs from social clubs, classes, games and exercise sessions being run virtually by the center, as well as the delivery of prepared meals. 

“Veterans are at a high risk and a lot of it is based on a couple of things,” Tony Jimenez, the director of the City of Glen Cove Veterans Affairs, said. “One is any trauma that they might have come across during their military careers and that has a great effect.”

Jimenez said that often when soldiers come home from war, they are in a state of denial, believing that they could handle anything they are facing by themselves. Veterans may also struggle after coming home from war to changes in their household, communities and their life going forward.

“Sometimes it just snowballs into them determining that life isn’t just worth living and so we have to first of all let the troops know that there is help out there,” Jimenez said. “War is hell. It changes everybody. There is nobody that doesn’t get changed if they’ve been in a war.”

According to the QPR course, which was developed by clinical psychologist Dr. Paul Quinnett, high risk groups include those who have lost a loved one to suicide and those who have the “means” to end their lives, including police officers with access to firearms. Also, those suffering with depression, alcohol or drug addiction, are experiencing an inability to sleep or have suffered a trauma or experienced bullying. 

People thinking about ending their life could give a direct verbal cue, such as “I wish I were dead,” or an indirect cue such as “Pretty soon you won’t have to worry about me.” They may also begin giving away possessions, getting their affairs in order or are experiencing a significant life event, such as the loss of a job or a diagnosis of a terminal illness.

People concerned about a colleague, neighbor, friend or family member should approach the person in private and make sure they have plenty of time to talk.  Resources, such as phone numbers, counselor names and other helpful sources of information, should be on hand and an expression of hope should be offered to the person if they are in a state of crisis.

Following the expression of hope, the person who is concerned should ask the person at risk the following questions: “Will you go with me to get help?” or “Will you let me help you get help?” 

A concerned person should get others involved to get the person through this period of their life. Any faith leaders and close family and friends should be informed. Following up on the person is also important, according to the presentation.

Ann Morrison, the Long Island area director for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said programs like this one at the Bayville Free Library are essential in order to prevent suicide.

“We are seeing that people are more attuned to their mental health because of the isolation,” Morrison said. “Yes people are isolated and are feeling that isolation, but we’re seeing more people being attuned to that, so that more people are reaching out to look for what they can do to help their employees, what they can do to help their students.”