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Pa. pledges help for people considering suicide, urges them to reach out

Patriot-News - 9/18/2023

If you’re concerned someone might be considering suicide, don’t hesitate to ask them about it. Don’t worry it will increase the chances they’ll commit suicide.

The exact opposite is true, according to a succession of speakers who assembled at the state Capitol on Monday to stress that Pennsylvania is deeply committed to supplying the help needed to prevent suicide, which killed about 1,000 Pennsylvanians in 2021.

“Research shows that acknowledging and talking about suicide lets people know you care about them,” said Dr. Debra Bogen, the acting state secretary of health. Bogen told how her father quietly began planning society after entering his 70s, and inquires led to him acknowledging it and eventually recovering from his depression.

Bogen and others stressed that talking to someone in crisis conveys they are not alone and is often the first step toward getting help. They further advised people to listen compassionately and without judgment, and to remain involved with the person.

“Your physical and emotional presence in a person’s life makes a difference,” said Dr. Val Arkoosh, the state Secretary of Human Services.

Arkoosh said Gov. Josh Shapiro is committed to addressing shortages in the availability of mental health care, with his 2023-2024 budget including $20 million to improve mental health services available through Pennsylvania counties.

Monday’s event included officials of state departments and organizations focused on the elderly, farmers and military veterans — all groups deemed at higher risk of suicide.

Army veteran James Stafford recounted being stricken with anxiety and depression that wore on him over a period of several years and led to suicidal thoughts.

The 42-year-old Lancaster County resident said he always viewed himself as outgoing and emotionally strong, and it took him a long time to acknowledge to himself he was considering suicide.

He said he went through a two-year period of where he stopped talking to people. Eventually, with support from a military chaplain, he sought help in a veteran’s hospital emergency room, resulting in therapy, medication and other help that restored his life.

He now works for the Pennsylvania Department of Military and Veteran Affairs, helping veterans who are in crisis.

Speakers on Monday urged people having suicidal thoughts to call the 988 hotline for suicide prevention. The hotline connects people to trained counselors as well as to local mental health resources.

Demand for mental health care has soared in recent years, especially following the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, there’s a shortage of mental health professionals and other resources, which has resulted in months-long waiting lists.

However, Arkoosh expressed confidence that sufficient help is available through the 988 hotline, and said it “continues to grow and expand.”

She said there are several call centers around the state, with agreements to shift overflow calls to surrounding centers. She said the “vast majority” of calls to the center are resolved during the call, with people obtaining the needed resources and “going in a good direction.”

She also cited the availability of local crisis teams and local police for people who need an immediate intervention.

She further said the state continually monitors call center statistics and is “working every day to make sure the system is as robust as possible.”


Pa. residents in mental health crisis in Pa. wait months, or longer, for help

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