September 2, 2013

Backpack Project to raise suicide awareness

By JEFF MEYERS Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — Suicide among young people, locally and across the nation, continues to be a devastating problem, but suicide-prevention advocates are fighting to reduce the numbers.

The Clinton County Coalition to Prevent Suicide, including representation from the National Alliance on Mental Illness-Champlain Valley and Behavioral Health Services North, is holding the first local Backpack Project on the front lawn of CVPH Medical Center on Tuesday to promote suicide awareness and prevention.

“We want to change the conversation about mental health,” said Bonnie Black, director of Employee Assistance Services for BHSN.

“So much of the conversation about mental health is derogatory, negative. We need to break the stigma down and talk about anxiety, depression, substance abuse and how we can get people to treatment faster.”

In New York state alone, 68 college students die of suicide each year, and it is the third-leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 24.


Organizers for Tuesday’s event will place 68 used backpacks on the CVPH lawn, each one carrying a message about suicide as a symbol for those 68 student deaths.

“We’re holding the Backpack Project not only to raise awareness of an extremely high youth-suicide rate locally, but to talk about it as well, to start the conversation,” Black said.

“If we can talk about the number of deaths and become more aware of mental health, then we can start to reduce those numbers.”

The New York State Office of Mental Health has set a goal of zero suicides, she noted.

“It is preventable. Let’s get out there and talk about it. If we remain silent, how will we ever be able to educate, understand and prevent suicide.”


Tuesday’s Backpack Project will include a free giveaway of new backpacks to the first 100 people who attend.

The Clinton County Sheriff’s Office will also give away free gun locks. Suicide by gun continues to be the No. 1 cause of death, Black noted.

Experts will also be on hand to talk about suicide prevention, including the best methods to identify people who may potentially be considering suicide.

“Over 90 percent of people who choose to take their life have a diagnosis of depression, anxiety and also substance abuse,” Black said.

“We need to start the conversation if we want to make suicide a ‘never’ event.”


Black compared the nation’s suicide rates with homicide rates, noting that four times as many people die from suicide than homicide.

“We’ve talked a lot about crime prevention and have done a really good job in educating people about how to prevent violent acts. We need to focus that same kind of education on suicide prevention.”

Living in a rural community adds to complexity of suicide prevention, she added. With an increased lack of services, transportation problems and the isolation associated with rural communities, it can be more difficult to identify potential suicide victims.

Talking with people and identifying the potential for suicide will help to reduce the barriers a rural community faces in preventing suicide, Black said.

The Backpack Project is funded through a suicide-prevention grant for Clinton County secured by State Sen. Betty Little (R-Queensbury).

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MORE INFO The Backpack Project will be held Tuesday, Sept. 3 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on the front lawn of CVPH Medical Center. Free school backpacks will be given to the first 100 people who attend. For more information, contact the National Alliance on Mental Illness: Champlain Valley at 561-2685.