SNOW HILL – The Worcester County Health Department, in conjunction with other health providers in the tri-county area, received a state grant in recent months to reduce and prevent suicide.
Jackie Ward, health planner with the Worcester County Health Department, said the health department acted as a facilitator for the Lower Eastern Shore Suicide Prevention Coalition (LESSPC), a group which the agency is a part of, to apply for grant money from the Rural Maryland Council, a state agency that addresses the needs of agrarian communities.
The LESSPC, a group of health providers with a common goal of reducing and preventing suicide in the Lower Shore, will use the $28,000 in grant money to fund six behavioral health trainings, including safeTALK, Mental Health First Aid, Youth Mental Health First Aid, Applied Suicide Intervention Skills and a pilot program entitled Signs of Suicide Prevention Program, which will educate middle school students in Worcester County about suicide.
The Signs of Suicide Prevention Program, briefly referred to as SOS, will teach students to know the signs of suicide, engage with family and school staff, and destigmatize the mental health issue, according to Ward.
“In the nation, we are seeing a rise in youth suicide,” Ward said. “A part of that spike is among middle-school students. This will teach students to identify and reduce the stigma early on.”
According to the health department, a 2014 Youth Risk Behavior Survey reported 17.4 percent of middle school students in Worcester County seriously considered suicide at least once during the year preceding the survey. Officials in Wicomico and Somerset counties received similar responses of 14.3 percent and 16.7 percent, respectively.
“We have a rate that is higher than the state in terms of suicide,” Ward said. “But we are trending downward. So we are headed in the right direction. But one suicide is always too many.”
Nationally, rates of suicide have been trending upward in recent years. According to the health department, suicide rates increased 20.5 percent from 2004 to 2014.
Jennifer LaMade, director of planning, quality and core service at the health department, said there is a strong correlation between rural areas and suicide rates, and attributed this trend to stigma, isolation and professional health shortages.
“They have recently reported that farmers and waterman have higher rates of suicide than the general public,” she said. “And this area has that population.”
Although the grant money will be used to fund programs that target the youth population, the health department said the programs are applicable to all ages and added that the Coalition is committed to reaching all groups of people.
LaMade said the tri-county area’s alarming statistics and the Coalition’s group effort made the LESSPC an appealing candidate for the grant.
“They found it attractive that we were pulling resources to be efficient and effective,” she said.
According to LaMade, approximately 15 government agencies, non-profits and grassroots organizations have joined the Coalition since its formation.
The LESSPC is joined by seven other groups in receiving grant money from the Rural Maryland Council.