BERLIN – Throughout the month of September, government agencies and nonprofits will lead efforts to promote suicide prevention education as part of Suicide Prevention Month.
Jessica Sexauer, director of Worcester County Health Department’s Core Service Agency and Local Management Board, said the month-long campaign and its events are meant to shed light on the topic of suicide.
“The more you are able to talk about suicide and awareness efforts and receive information on how to identify signs, the more likely it is to get someone who is suicidal the appropriate help,” she said.
Sexauer said three-year moving averages in Worcester County show a downward trend in suicide deaths.
From 2011-2013, the county averaged 13.6 suicides per 100,000 people. Those numbers declined to 11.6 suicide per 100,000 from 2012-2014 and 9 suicide per 100,000 from 2013-2015.
In comparison, state averages in those years were 9.4, 9.6 and 9.5 suicides per 100,000.
While she described the county’s downward trend as encouraging, Sexauer said she remains cautious.
“We have small numbers,” she said. “One person can really make a big difference.”
Ron Pilling, secretary and treasurer of the Jesse Klump Memorial Fund, said suicide rates in rural areas remain critical.
“If you look at the state suicide rates … it’s always a rural area that is at the top of the list,” he said.
Pilling explained that rural counties, such as Cecil, Washington and Allegany, often see the highest suicide rates, but counties on the Lower Shore are not far behind.
“Just as often, it is Dorchester, Wicomico or Worcester counties,” he said.
Pilling attributes the area’s higher suicide rates to several factors, including occupation.
“A consideration for our communities is suicide by occupation,” he said. “Nationally, the three occupations with the highest suicide rates are agriculture, extraction (mining and forestry) and commercial fishing. These jobs account for a sizable portion of working men on the lower Eastern Shore.”
In an effort to eliminate the stigma of suicide and to reduce suicide deaths, the local health department is teaming up with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the Jesse Klump Memorial Fund, Worcester Youth and Family Counseling Services and the Life Crisis Center to host the area’s 6th Annual “Out of the Darkness” community walk in Ocean City.
The event, set for Sept. 23, will raise money to support local and national efforts to reduce suicide. In the past five years, the walk has raised more than $170,000.
Registration will begin at 9 a.m. at Caroline Street and the Boardwalk. The walk will begin at 10 a.m.
“This is a wonderful opportunity for our community to come together to bring awareness of suicide and prevention efforts,” Sexauer said.
On the evening prior to the walk, Sexauer said the health department will host a Celebration of Life ceremony at the Church of the Holy Spirit in Ocean City from 6:30-8 in memory of those lost to suicide. Sexauer encourages those that are interested to preregister by calling Monica Martin at 410-629-0164 ext.147.
“It’s a place where family and friends can come together and have support,” she said.
Pilling said the month-long campaign was established to create awareness among individuals.
“Suicide Prevention Month has significance, and that is to call to everyone’s attention the importance of recognizing suicide as a threat,” he said. “Everyone is touched by suicide in one way or the other.”