It is National Suicide Prevention Week, and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Syracuse hosted an event honoring local efforts to raise awareness. Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner issued a proclamation making this week Suicide Prevention Awareness in the city. The V.A. has been working with the Onondaga County Suicide Prevention Coalition for about a year. Veterans make up a significant percentage of suicide deaths.
About 20 veterans commit suicide every day in the U.S. and only six of those veterans engaged in V.A. care. Syracuse V.A. Suicide Prevention Coordinator Sabah Ocasio said partnering with the county’s coalition encourages more veterans to use V.A. services.
“We will go out to any community agency," Ocasio said. "We’ve gone out to churches, we’ve gone out to mosques, we’ve gone out to schools, fire departments talking to first responders. We’re willing to go out just about anywhere to talk about how to identify someone who is ask risk and then what to do once you’ve done that.”
Ocasio said veterans are twice as likely as civilians to commit suicide.
"Many people who begin to contemplate suicide, often times have a mental illness that goes undiagnosed or untreated," Ocasio said. "Bringing about awareness that there are services within the V.A. as well as the community to assist them, with the combination of medication management as well as psycho therapy, often times those symptoms will alleviate dramatically."
In Onondaga County, 58 people committed suicide in 2015. Stephanie Grandjean is the head of the county suicide prevention coalition, which is made up of more than 30 agencies that meet once a month to provide outreach, education and communication. Grandjean said one resource available is the contact hotline at 315-251-0600.
“People can call anytime of the day, day or night, to talk about their thoughts of suicide but also just to talk about anything that is on their mind," Grandjean said. "There’s always someone there that can listen and talk to them.”
Grandjean said the coalition provides materials, hosts free trainings and are working on a stigma reduction campaign. Residents can visit OnondagaSuicidePrevention.com for more resources.