Thursday, July 23, 2009

Agency, hit by cuts, works to prevent suicides

Call it a difficult sign of the times, a glimpse at how non-profits are dealing with budget cuts.

After its United Way funds were cut by $115,319, or 40 percent, the Mental Health Association of Central Carolinas was forced -- as many non-profits facing steep funding cuts have -- to scale back on services.

The 76-year-old agency has cut full-time staffers from 40 to 32 hours a week. It canceled the cleaning company, and now staffers clean the office. In recent years, it has focused on five priorities: Children's mental health, suicide and violence prevention, housing for adults with severe and persistent mental illness, and the mental health of returning military veterans and their families, and immigrants.

All noble missions, but because of cuts, the agency is focusing primarily on providing suicide prevention training after an alarming spike recently in attempts or threats -- the impact in large part of job and home loss, and frets over paying bills.

Ellis Fields, the association's executive director, and Andrea Towner, its development director, say the struggling economy is creating the level of stress and depression they and others have rarely seen before.

The numbers provide proof:

The first 18 days of last April, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police responded to 81 suicide attempts or threats, a 55 percent increase over the same period last year. Last year, a risk behavior study of CMS middle and high schoolers showed that high school students admitted to attempting suicide at nearly twice the rate of high school students nationally.

The World Health Organization is warning that suicide rates will increase as the economy stagnates or worsens.

"All that made us step up our efforts to prevent suicides," Towner said. "We got all our staff trained in suicide prevention and sent them out to train groups to recognize the warning signs. We're certainly concerned that the current economy is increasing stress and depression, and will continue to increase attempts and completions."

In June, at the request of Mecklenburg County, the agency began training county employees across all departments in suicide prevention. They got to 100 employees. They plan to do more training in August.

"It's an under-reported problem and it's not going away," Towner said. "We want to bring it to the forefront so that more people can be saved."


Anonymous said...

Of one thing you can almost be positive of, and thats no blacks will be committing suicide because they lose their jobs. Black folks are use to having hard times.

Anonymous said...

This is a travesty. Why are they making cuts to this program but still have plenty of money to help fund idiot programs like a tea cup museum? Maybe if the politicians realized that the people that they could be saving are voters they would open their greedy little eyes.
My hat is off to you Mrs. Towner. keep up the good work despite your lack of funding.