The Suicide Prevention Coalition of Broome County is organizing a series of events throughout September to educate residents about available resources for those experiencing suicidal ideation.

For September — National Suicide Prevention Month — Broome County’s Mental Health Department, which organizes care for consumers of public mental hygiene services in Broome County, has planned educational workshops and events, including the annual “Chalk The Walk, Have The Talk” campaign. The programming is meant to provide support for those who are suicidal and spread awareness of key symptoms that are associated with suicidal ideation. The County partnered with the Mental Health Association of the Southern Tier (MHAST) to organize these events.

The awareness campaign has slowly expanded over the years, beginning as National Suicide Prevention Day on Sept. 10, later National Suicide Prevention Week, and has expanded to encompass the entire month of September. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), National Suicide Prevention Month allows us the opportunity to “shine a special, encouraging light on this topic that affects us all, and send a clear, hopeful message that help is available, and suicide can be prevented.”

“Chalk the Walk, Have the Talk” is an opportunity for community members to come together and create art, as well as leave messages of “hope, resilience, suicide awareness and prevention” on sidewalks around Broome County (3). Pavement artwork can be submitted to MHAST to win prizes in three categories — most thoughtful message, most “likes” on Facebook and most creative. Attendance at LUMA on both Friday and Saturday nights has been incorporated into Chalk the Walk, and a gallery event at the Broome County Library on Sept. 26 from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. will close out the month’s events.

This is the fourth annual “Chalk the Walk” event in Broome County. Heidi Mikeska, the suicide prevention coordinator for the Broome County Mental Health Department, described the reception the event has had in the past.

“Fantastic,” Mikeska wrote in an email. “This campaign affords the opportunity for individuals to find opportunities to express themselves, connect with others, know they are not alone and obtain resources if needed.”

Binghamton University’s Healthy Campus peer agents will also hold a Chalk the Walk event on Sept. 13 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The Suicide Prevention Coalition of Broome County also hosts workshops to educate local schools and the community about suicide prevention. Resources like “suicide safety for teachers and staff, helping students at risk, creating suicide safety in schools” provide educators with tools to reach out to at-risk students, while community programs like Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) provide caregivers — including social workers, mental health counselors and credentialed alcohol and substance abuse counselors — with the ability to recognize the risk of suicide and intervene when necessary.

According to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide was the 11th leading cause of death for Americans in 2021. Suicide rates increased by 37 percent between 2000 to 2018 and decreased by 5 percent between 2018 to 2020, though the trend changed in 2021 when rates nearly returned to their peak.

Mikeska shared her organization’s hopes for the month and the importance of destigmatizing discussions surrounding mental health.

“Through addressing and reducing stigma, via education and awareness activities such as these, Broome County Suicide Awareness For Everyone Coalition (BC SAFE) hopes suicide will be openly discussed and addressed throughout the community and believe these efforts will be impactful on the reduction and elimination of suicide in our county,” Mikeska wrote. “It should not only be acceptable to have these honest conversations about mental health and suicide prevention, it should be expected. Mental Health is health and should be treated as such.”

Hannah Gross, a junior majoring in integrative neuroscience, expressed her thoughts on Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.

“Mental health is really important,” Gross said. “Especially in college. I think it’s good that they’re bringing attention to this issue and encouraging people to reach out when they’re struggling.”