The Journal Gazette
Monday, September 13, 2021 1:00 am

Five questions for Alice Jordan-Miles

Director, Indiana Suicide Prevention Coalition

EDITORIAL BOARD | The Journal Gazette

1 Tell us a little about the Indiana Suicide Prevention Coalition and your work.

Since its inception in 2001 under the leadership of Kathleen O'Connell, ISPC's mission is to coordinate, facilitate, advise and provide resources to Indiana communities for activities that reduce: 

- deaths due to suicide.

- occurrence of suicidal behaviors.

- effects of suicide on Indiana citizens.

The coalition coordinates information-sharing via a 10,000+ listserv across the state and beyond state lines. In addition, ISPC collects statewide and national data on schools and youth-serving organizations' efforts regarding suicide prevention, intervention and postvention programs and services

The coalition advises local suicide-prevention groups on expanding and refining their suicide-prevention efforts; raises awareness across Indiana of the prevalence of suicide, the devastating impact it has on families and its preventability; and helps communities and organizations find an implement suicide-prevention and intervention training.

ISPC facilitates growth of local suicide-prevention councils in counties and regions across Indiana; aids schools in responding to suicidal students and student suicide death by updating and distributing the prevention and postvention toolkit.

Lastly, ISPC provides resources to organizations, churches, juvenile justice and community members regarding suicide facts, trends, events and evidence-based programs; provides technical assistance to Hoosiers by connecting them to information and services; and distributes a school-based youth suicide prevention guide to help schools plan prevention, intervention and postvention efforts.


2 September is Suicide Prevention Month, but suicide is an ongoing problem: It's the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., and more than 47,500 people died by suicide in 2019, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. How do things compare locally? What kinds of factors contribute to these preventable deaths?

Suicide deaths in Allen County are on the increase. In the 2019 official data, suicide in America decreased from 2018 – the first time in 30 years. However, don't let this fool you. All suicide data is grossly underestimated.

Many are counted as "accidental injury" and/or an overdose. Unfortunately, because of COVID and further isolations, suicide numbers continue to rise in 2021 not only across the United States but also here in Allen County. 

There are many factors that contribute to suicide. The main factors include but are not limited to the following:

- Prior suicide attempt(s).

- Misuse and abuse of alcohol or other drugs.

- Mental disorders, particularly depression and other mood disorders.

- Access to lethal means.

- Knowing someone who died by suicide, particularly a family member.

- Social isolation.

- Chronic disease and disability.


3 The pandemic has contributed to concerns about depression, anxiety and suicide, particularly in young people. Do we know what effects the pandemic has had in northeast Indiana?

Researchers across the country and beyond felt that a decline in suicide rates during the beginning of the pandemic was (tied) to the sense of "community" – in other words, people reaching and looking out for each other with great sincerity as people do after a natural disaster.

However, suicide rates vary greatly based on demographics and ethnic backgrounds. Different people had access to different resources to get them through this isolating times. However, marginalized communities – i.e. brown and Black communities – had different challenges with little to no resources to get them through the challenging times.

Furthermore, people in communities of color often suffer from more chronic and underlying health conditions and reside in multigenerational homes in which the likelihood is that entire families are affected at once with deaths occurring days apart within one family.


4 Preventing deaths from suicide seems a monumental task. What are some keys to combating it?

It's important for folks to understand the importance of being able to identify warning signs and risk factors of suicide. Suicide does not discriminate and can touch anyone, anywhere and at any time. But it is not inevitable, because there is hope!

Just as it is important for someone to recognize when someone is having a heart attack, its equally important to learn how to recognize the warning signs when someone is at risk of suicide so you know what you can do to help. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, everyone can help anyone. If you believe someone may be in danger of suicide:

- Call 911, if danger for self-harm seems imminent.

- Ask them whether they are thinking about killing themselves. This will not put the idea into their head or make it more likely that they will attempt suicide.

- Listen without judging and show you care.

- Stay with the person or make sure the person is in a private, secure place with another caring person until you can get further help.

- Remove any objects that could be used in a suicide.


5. What are some ways friends, families and those fighting mental illness can help?

Research upon research shows that family and friends play a critical role in helping someone who is having a difficult time with their mental health. Providing nonjudgmental emotional support and understanding can save someone's life.

Also, having patience with their timeline of getting better is also critical. Just like people who suffer from other more socially accepted illnesses, people's recovery is different; mental illness is no different. More important is just starting the conversation – letting the person know that they are not alone in their journey of getting better. Lastly, constantly reminding them that seeking help is a sign of their strength and that they will get through this difficult time with yours and others support and encouragement that they are not alone.

Suicide prevention is everyone's business.

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