Over the past several years, I’ve written about the topic of suicide several times. It is a complex topic that continues to demand our attention.

While my most recent article celebrated September as National Recovery Month, September is also recognized as National Suicide Prevention Month. And unfortunately, suicide trends in Georgia are not a cause for celebration, but consternation.

According to state-specific data published by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide in Georgia is increasing. In 2019 Georgia reported 1,451 deaths from suicide, a rate of 13.59 per 100,000 residents. In 2020, AFSP reported 1,569 suicides in our state, a rate of 14.53. In 2021, both numbers increased again: 1,585 deaths and a rate of 14.67. Georgia’s 2021 ranking is 31st in the nation, up from 39 th in 2019.

There is an important caveat with these reports, which AFSP gathers from data published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: they are all two years old because it takes time to collect and verify state-level mortality data.

So AFSP’s 2019 Georgia report is actually based on suicide deaths that occurred in 2017, and the 2021 numbers reflect deaths from 2019. In other words, it won’t be until next year that we can confirm the impact of the pandemic on suicide in our state. We know it won’t be good.

Despite these grim statistics, suicide can be prevented and there is much that can be done. Toward that end, I want to make our communities aware of the resources Highland Rivers Health provides — many at no cost — to help individuals and communities learn about and prevent suicide.

The public can contact us at ZeroSuicide@highlandrivers.org for professional assistance with:

Early detection — We provide evidence-based assessments to identify risk factors, and referrals to mental health and other community support organizations for individuals at risk.

Education — Highland Rivers offers many suicide prevention resources, including a no-cost suicide prevention training called Question, Persuade, Refer. This highly efficient one-to-two-hour training can be provided onsite (and online) for businesses, schools, churches, community organizations, healthcare agencies, or other organizations. Education and trainings can also be customized to the specific needs of any organization, community or age group.

Therapy — Highland Rivers’ professional therapists use evidence-based practices to treat and minimize suicide risk factors. A licensed clinician and peer specialist are available to meet with individuals who report suicide risk factors, and their family members, to help manage suicidality and provide interventions to increase resiliency and foster hope. Our clinicians can also provide therapeutic support to fellow clinicians, healthcare workers, first responders and others who experience distress from suicide-related incidents in the course of their work.

Recovery support — We provide individual and group therapy, and referral to support programs, for individuals who have survived a suicide attempt, as well as individuals who have been impacted by the suicide or suicide attempt of a loved one. Next-day crisis counseling and recovery support is available for schools and students that are coping with the loss of a student to suicide.

On an individual level, it is imperative for everyone to know what to do if you encounter someone who may be thinking about self-harm or suicide. If connecting with a professional therapist would be beneficial for you or a loved one, contact Highland Rivers at 800-729-5700. During non-business hours the Georgia Crisis and Access Line, 800-715-4225, and the national

Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 800-273-TALK (8255), are available 24 hours a day. Both can link individuals in Northwest Georgia with crisis services at Highland Rivers.

Finally, in spite of these saddening circumstances in our state, I remain hopeful — and we all must. Suicide can be prevented, and we all have the power to help. The suicide you help prevent not only helps an individual, but his or her family, the community and everyone in Georgia.

Melanie Dallas is a licensed professional counselor and CEO of Highland Rivers Health, which provides treatment and recovery services for individuals with mental illness, substance use disorders, and intellectual and developmental disabilities in the 12-county region of Northwest Georgia.


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