Mental health leader on suicide: "We don't have to accept this as collateral damage anymore."

Jun 8, 2018


Credit freeimages.com/Bas van der Pluym

The head of the Mental Health Association of Rochester says strong relationships are at the core of suicide prevention.

Chacku Mathai is responding to the 20-year data released from the CDC that shows a dramatic increase in suicides nationally. In New York State, there was a nearly 29 percent surge in the number of suicides between 1999 and 2016.

The report was released two days after the suicide of fashion designer Kate Spade and one day before celebrity chef and TV personality Anthony Bordain reportedly died by suicide.

Mathai says it is not only the role of the mental health system to help people who are struggling.  The CDC said roughly half of those who died by suicide had no previously known mental health issues

"For many, it's a big surprise when somebody dies by suicide, because nobody knew that the person was struggling,” said Mathai.  “That's one thing that we can change. When somebody is struggling, it doesn't have to be a rush to suicidal assessment. It can be a connection that somebody needs."

Mathai says people ultimately need to be heard, have a personal connection with others, and a valued role in their community.

He says suicide prevention should be a public health priority that is addressed by the health care, criminal justice, and education fields, and the community at large.

For instance, he says primary care doctors can be better trained to screen patients for signs of emotional distress.

"We're not necessarily asking the questions that engage people around what their struggles are. We're not following up when they do offer a concern and a crisis. And we're also not necessarily thinking about how people are doing in major transitions in their life, whether it's the loss of a job, the start of a new job, a new home, and things like that."

Mathai is inviting survivors of suicide attempts, their families, and people who have lost a loved one to suicide to get involved in the Monroe County Partners for Suicide Prevention Coalition, which he co-chairs. The organization is in the process of developing its website.

Click on the LISTEN link above to hear an interview with Chaku Mathai.