YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – There has been an alarming increase in suicide rates in the past few years, especially among men, says Duane Piccirilli, executive director of the Mahoning County Mental Health and Recovery Board.
Approximately 85% of suicides in Mahoning County are males and 26% of those men are over age 40. “We don’t know why this trend is happening here,” Piccirilli says.
Data provided by the board show there were 41 suicides in Mahoning County in 2021 and 44 in 2022.
So far, nine suicides have been reported this year.
The Mahoning board is trying to determine what’s behind the trend, Piccirilli says.
“One of the things with the pandemic is a lot of people that were home were more isolated,” he says. “The pandemic was like a perfect storm.”
Piccirilli says those suffering from depression and loneliness were no longer given those same opportunities to go outside and surround themselves with other people.
“Another thing during the pandemic was support groups couldn’t meet,” he says. “There were some that met online, but for the most part, a lot of that fellowship was lost.”
Lee DeVita, program coordinator of the Mahoning County mental health board, says his counselors trained with Life Side Ohio, a suicide prevention coalition that shows warning signs to gun dealers how to identify customers.
“We do have a high population of individuals in northeast Ohio that are hunters and gun collectors,” he says. “We understand that, but we also want to make sure they’re safe.”
DeVita and Piccirilli were part of a suicide fatality review committee that took a deeper look into why the suicide rate is increasing. The committee was a collaboration between the Mahoning County health and sheriff’s departments.
DeVita says the county coroner played a big role in this research. Through psychological autopsies, they are able to go back through old cases and identify potential clues or signs.
“This in no way is to point fingers or to see if something was done wrong,” Piccirilli says. “We want to see if there is something that we can do in the future to maybe save someone’s life.”
A trend they have noticed is a correlation between suicide deaths and hospitalizations or doctor visits within the prior two months.
“The medical community is doing an excellent job through depression screening,” Piccirilli says.
“Whenever you go to your primary care doctor or even the emergency room, they will ask some questions on depression. They are doing a depression screening [and] that has helped immensely.”
To combat risk factors reported by suicide survivors, the Mahoning County Local Outreach to Suicide Survivors (Loss) Team was launched.
The team’s goals are to allow for survivors to start healing, give permission for families and loved ones to talk about their experience, link new survivors in their community to combat loneliness, and share needed information and resources with survivors.
The team is made up of trained volunteers who call or go to suicide scenes to spread resources and hope to close friends and family.
“The majority of the volunteers are suicide survivors. They share that unique experience and they can talk to those family members, relate to them and understand what they’re going through so they don’t feel so by themselves,” Piccirilli says.
Informational materials are also provided on recovery and discussion groups.
“Mahoning County Mental Health Board does not want anyone alone if a loved one took their [own] life,” Piccirilli says.
If the coroner finds a situation where a suicide survivor is alone or doesn’t have a lot of support, he notifies Loss team members, who reach out to that person.
Across Ohio, men are dying of suicide at a higher rate than women, Piccirilli says. While women attempt to take their lives more frequently, men use more violent or fatal methods.
Their research shows men often use firearms or hang themselves, while women more frequently use medicine. Piccirilli says this is why education is so important.
“The thing you have to remember is suicide has nothing to do with wanting to die,” Piccirilli says. “Suicide has everything to do with wanting the pain to stop. Mental health care is health care and when people are in a situation where they want to end their lives, it’s because they are in extreme psychological pain.”
For those struggling with issues, Piccirilli says the first steps are to tell a friend or family member.
Those interested in volunteering as part of the team can contact DeVita at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 330 746 2959 ext. 7975.
It you or someone you know needs immediate support, call or text 988 or visit 988lifeline.org.
Suicide Risk Factors and Warning Signs
The Suicide Prevention Resource Center defines risk factors and warning signs as follow:
Risk factors are characteristics that make it more likely that an individual will consider, attempt or die by suicide. Warning signs indicate an immediate risk of suicide.
Risk factors include:
• Previous suicide attempt(s).
• A history of suicide in the family.
• Substance use.
• Mood disorders (depression, bipolar disorder).
• Access to lethal means (for example, keeping firearms in the home or having access to unsecured prescription medications).
• Losses and other events (for example, the breakup of a relationship or a death, academic failures, legal difficulties, financial difficulties).
• History of trauma or abuse.
• Chronic physical illness, including chronic pain.
• Exposure to the suicidal behavior of others.
• Social isolation.
• Historical trauma.
• Stigma associated with seeking help.
• In some cases, a recent stressor or sudden catastrophic event or failure can leave people feeling desperate, unable to see a way out, and become a tipping point toward suicide.
Warning signs include:
• Often talking or writing about death, dying or suicide.
• Making comments about being hopeless, helpless or worthless.
• Expressions of having no reason for living; no sense of purpose in life; saying things like “It would be better if I wasn’t here” or “I want out.”
• Increased alcohol and/or drug use.
• Withdrawal from friends, family and community.
• Reckless behavior or riskier activities, seemingly without thinking.
• Dramatic mood changes.
• Talking about feeling trapped or being a burden to others.