County puts focus on suicide prevention

OKEECHOBEE — “Suicide touches all of our communities,” Michael Hofmaier, clinical director for Suncoast Mental Health Center, told the Okeechobee County Board of Commissioners at their Aug. 24 meeting.

In 2016 there were eight suicide-related deaths in Okeechobee County, he said. That was double the number in 2015.

“I think all of us at some point have been touched by mental health issues in our families or friends,” he said.

“It touches our communities,” he said. “We not only need to increase the awareness of prevention, but more importantly in my estimation we need to decrease the stigma attached to mental health issues,” he added.

He said they need to address the stigma attached to those who have mental health problems.

According to the county proclamation, Suncoast Mental Health Center seeks to increase awareness and encourage continued discussion and action regarding mental health matters such as suicide and recognizing that greater awareness is critical. The total number of suicides have increased statewide from 1995 to 2014. South Florida has more suicides than murders, traffic fatalities combined, yet the stigma prevents open discussions.

Sept. 10 has been known as World Suicide Prevention Day since 2003 as supported by the International Association of Suicide Prevention, of which the United States is represented along with 52 other countries worldwide.

The Okeechobee County Commission declared Sept. 10, 2017 as World Suicide Prevention Day in Okeechobee County.

“We call this observance to the attention of our citizens by re-educating themselves about risk factors and resources, speaking up when someone they know is struggling, offering support and caring words to those around them, remembering those who have chosen to no longer be with us, and reaffirming the importance of working together to keep the community healthy,” states the county proclamation.

Commissioner Byrant Culpepper said when he was working in emergency services, too often he saw cases of suicide.

“Too many times we realize what happens to the people who are still with us when a loved one commits suicide,” he said.

Commissioner Culpepper said he has noticed teens on social media joking with each other using “GKY” which stands for “go kill yourself.” He suggested that those who run the social media sites should do more to address this and to stop cyber bullying which can contribute to suicides.

“Everything starts really at home and starts with ourselves,” said Mr. Hofmaier. “Truth would be the first thing.

“You might be surprised what children actually understand and comprehend.

You don’t need to sugarcoat things. Put it at their level and at the same time be honest and be positive.

“Stuff we see on social media, a lot of it is negative but we can conquer that with positive messages about the preciousness of our lives, about the gifts we all bring, the talents we all bring to the communities and share that as well,” he said.

He said it is important to remove the stigma of seeking help for mental health issues.

“People talk about respect and trust. You talk about those issues, but first you have to respect yourself, trust yourself and love yourself,” said Mr. Hofmaier.

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