Know the signs. “I have an autographed Mickey Mantle baseball, if I gave that away you should be worried about me,” said Joel Smith, program director for the Florida Initiative for Suicide Prevention.

Smith was the featured presenter at March 18 evening’s Suicide Prevention Virtual Town Hall hosted via Zoom by the City of Wilton Manors and the City of Oakland Park.

A diehard New York Yankees fan, Smith said his baseball, signed by the Hall of Fame slugger, is a prized possession and when people start giving away their prized possessions that’s a troubling sign.

Other indicators of potential suicide risk, Smith said, are loss of energy, staying in bed, not bathing, a change in eating habits with either significant weight gain or loss and not communicating. 

Suicide claimed the lives of more than 47,500 Americans last year making it the 10th leading cause of death. Additionally alarming, 12 million Americans seriously thought about suicide in 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Anxiety, trauma and depression — all forms of mental illness — are principle drivers of suicide, Smith said.

Smith also emphasized a change is needed in how suicide is reported, cautioning Wilton Manors Mayor Scott Newton for using the term, “committed suicide.”

“We need to rethink that and to say died from suicide and no longer say ‘committed suicide,” Smith said.

The new phrasing recognizes mental illness is a treatable condition, Smith said.

Oakland Park Mayor Jane Bolin disclosed her niece’s husband died from suicide in November last year.

“It was quite shocking,” she said. “So this is very personal to me.”

Broward County averages 250 suicides a year, Smith said. White working-class men between the ages of 45 and 62 have the highest suicide rate in the nation. 

Other high-risk groups include older gay men who have recently lost a partner or are living alone and transgender youth oftentimes surviving on the streets. Sexual minorities, Smith said, tend to create their own family units for support.

“It’s harder to feel isolated when you are a part of something,” Smith said.

The COVID-19 pandemic has unfortunately broken some of those units apart and the long-term effects have yet to be measured, Smith said.

The Florida Initiative for Suicide Prevention operates under the auspices of Mental Health America of Southeast Florida and was created out of tragedy by five families in the mid-1980s. Smith said Florida ranks last in the country in funding for suicide prevention and changing that is a priority for First Lady Casey DeSantis.

For more information on suicide prevention, contact MHA at 954-746-2055.

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