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Palm Coast Tuesday, Jul. 31, 2018 1 month ago

Report: Flagler County leads state in rate of suicides

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Flagler Cares is working to make mental health less of a taboo topic.
by: Brian McMillan Executive Editor

“I feel sick to my stomach. Just got the newest suicide numbers from the state.”

School Board member Colleen Conklin posted her thoughts on Facebook on the night of July 31 and included a call to action: She said suicide is “a countywide issue that needs to be addressed by all of us.”

With 31 suicides in 2017, Flagler County had 28.8 per 100,000 residents, which is the highest rate in the state, according to recent data from the Florida Department of Health.

To address the issue, multiple agencies joined forces in 2017 to form the Flagler Cares Coalition, and a group — Conklin, Lynette Shott and Carrie Baird — visited meetings of the Bunnell and Flagler Beach city commissions, the Flagler County Commission and the Palm Coast City Council to raise awareness.

“We need to change the community’s perspective about mental health,” Conklin said in a July 31 phone interview. “The brain is an organ just like the heart. And if something goes wrong with your heart, if it’s hurt or diseased, people seek help. They seek care. And we really need to try to help people who are depressed or anxious, to feel comfortable seeking services. It’s not a sign of weakness.”

At First Friday in September, Flagler Cares will have a booth for depression screenings, which would be analogous to blood pressure screenings. The hope is that talking about mental health out in the open would make it less of a taboo, Conklin said.

Why is Flagler County leading the state in suicide rate? Conklin doesn’t know, but she speculated: “The bottom line is, we need more local resources.”

Chief Mark Strobridge, spokesman for the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office, agreed.

“There’s an inordinate amount of money being spent on other things in this country and in our communities, and it’s not on mental health,” he said. “There are not enough resources in this process for people to have proper follow-up care.”

"We really need to try to help people who are depressed or anxious, to feel comfortable seeking services. It’s not a sign of weakness.”

Colleen Conklin, School Board member

One improvement is the recent grant that will enable Flagler Schools to hire more psychologists, putting one in each school. Conklin also said the district is doing better handling Baker Act incidents involving students.

But students are not the most likely to die by suicide. Nineteen of Flagler’s 31 suicides in 2017 were people ages 20 to 65. To reach that demographic, Flagler Cares is also offering mental health training for businesses so staff can be aware of mental health of employees.

Want to get involved? Flagler Cares meets at 3 p.m. Aug. 13, at Florida Hospital Flagler. For local resources, see www.flaglerlifeline.org.

Brian McMillan has been editor of the Palm Coast Observer since it began in 2010. He was named the Journalist of the Year for weekly newspapers in North America by the Local Media Association in 2012. He lives in Palm Coast with his wife and five children. Email...

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