Byline: DEIRDRE CONNER
Advocates call suicide the taboo epidemic. It kills as many or more people than homicide or HIV, but no one wants to talk about it.
That's something that mental health experts are hoping to change through a $1.5 million grant coming to Duval County to help prevent the area's high rate of youth who take their own lives each year.
The Statewide Office of Suicide Prevention and Florida Office of Drug Control received the money as one of 18 states awarded grants through the federal Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act, which funds initiatives to combat youth suicide. The state office is using the money to fund a three-year project beginning Jan. 1 to reduce the rate of suicide in ages 10 and 24.
The ASAP (Adolescent Suicide Awareness and Prevention) project will target Duval County, whose suicide rate is higher than the state average. Among 15- to 24-year-olds, it was 13.4 per 100,000 in Duval; it was 8.8 per 100,000 statewide, according to a study by the Jacksonville Community Council Inc.
The project will train parents and people who work with teens, fund screening for adolescents, create social marketing campaigns and bolster crisis support services.
Most in the lay public are shocked to find out how pervasive the problem is, said the leader of Mental Health America of Northeast Florida, the group coordinating the programs locally.
"Most people who work with kids are aware of [the problem of youth suicide], but most of us are uncomfortable talking about it," said Susan Lee, the group's president. "They don't always know what to look for and what to ask."
A JCCI study funded by the Times-Union last year found that youth suicide rates here have exceeded the state averages since 1996, and that youth suicide is the third-leading cause of death for young people, behind accidents and homicides. Probably twice the number of reported suicides are misclassified as accidents or undetermined causes, the study found. …