Community Members and Faculty Join in Suicide Prevention Panel

Lucy Bell, Student Reporter

With a 37% uptick in suicide rates from 2019 to 2020, communities like Huntington need 500 plus social workers and therapists according to a Marshall University professor of social work during a seminar on Tuesday, Sept. 6.

“These statistics that we have fall under the category of what we call ‘deaths of despair,’” Marshall’s Dr. Paula Rymer said. “These are people that have issues with substance abuse, alcohol and mental illness issues. West Virginia was number one in our nation in loss in 2020.”

At the seminar, panel members answered questions relating to their work with marginalized groups in the community, current trends the public should be aware of and how they are using their platform as community leaders to help. 

One panelist, Jan Rader, former Huntington Fire Department chief, highlighted the importance of providing and promoting the community’s resources to protect both citizens’ physical and mental health.

“I have seen firsthand the devastating effects of suicide, especially since they are preventable,” Rader said. “And I certainly recognize the marginalized groups that suffer greatly because they don’t have the resources or they don’t realize that they have resources.” 

Concerns spread among members of the medical community as physicians attempt to take on the role of both care provider and therapist according to Dr. Sydnee McElroy, Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine graduate.

“Throughout my training in medicine, I did a residency in family medicine,” McElroy said. “I would say that we are not given nearly enough information and this may be different if you go to a psychiatry residency, but for the rest of us, there is not nearly enough training in suicide prevention.”  

With a wide variety of needs included in mental health care, currently available resources are not “a one size fits all” approach according to Samuel Green, Fairness West Virginia Board of Directors member. 

“Sometimes you don’t have to have clinical depression or anxiety or anything like that to seek help, and I think that’s something that Marshall is doing a good job with,” Green said. “There are three fully functioning clinics on campus for students to be able to seek out care.”

Being an encouraging presence to friends and loved ones who may be struggling with their mental health can have a positive impact on lowering the rates of suicide according to Ally Layman, Harmony House Community Outreach director.   

“Individuals with at least one positive and supportive person in their life can reduce suicide rates by 40%,” Layman said. 

This panel served as part of Marshall’s observation of National Suicide Prevention Week.