Tom Wolf Editorial Board

Gov. Tom Wolf meets with the LNP Editorial Board in this file photo from April 2017.

Suicide rates in Pennsylvania have increased by 34% since 1999, according to a 2018 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

They peaked in the period from 2014 to 2016 with 16.3 suicides per 100,000 people.

The Lancaster County coroner’s office has reported 24 suicides so far this year.

Gov. Tom Wolf’s office recently announced an effort to address the increasing number of suicides in Pennsylvania.

“If we are going to reverse the growing prevalence of suicide as a leading cause of death, we must expand our perspective and strengthen our approach,” Teresa Miller, secretary of the state Department of Human Services, said in a news release announcing a statewide task force to address the issue.

“Suicidal ideation and crisis can affect people at any time and in any circumstance,” Miller said in the release.

Four-year plan

The task force will develop a four-year statewide plan to reduce suicide and fight the stigma associated with suicide and mental health issues, Erin James, press secretary at the Department of Human Services, wrote in an email to LNP.

The first meeting is set for July, and the task force will meet approximately every five weeks until December, James wrote. Then it will submit its plan to the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration before determining a governance structure to carry out the plan within the state.

Local groups that focus on suicide prevention said they are excited to see the state mobilizing its resources to combat the growing issue.

“There’s a lot of stigma around if we have these conversations that it will provoke someone who is thinking about suicide. That is simply not the case,” said Kim McDevitt, executive director of Mental Health America of Lancaster County.

Perry Hazeltine, coordinator of research and development for TeenHope, a mental health screening organization that works in Lancaster County schools, said it is important for parents concerned about their children to ask them directly if they are considering taking their own life.

“For most cases with kids, it’s a relief to be asked,” he said.

The statewide task force is made up of employees from state agencies, members of the General Assembly, and Prevent Suicide PA, a contracted partner with the DHS, James wrote.

There will be an opportunity for public comment on the plan, she wrote.