Suicide rates are on the decline in Central Florida, medical examiners said, continuing a trend that stunned mental health experts since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
Data from officials representing Volusia, Orange, Osceola, Lake, Sumter, Seminole and Marion counties shows those areas have had fewer suicides than 2020 as of the beginning of September. Suicide rates were down 13% last year, reversing a trend that had seen rates slowly grow since the beginning of the century.
Across the board, officials said Americans are getting better at talking about mental health and understanding each others’ struggles.
“Depression is typically like the common cold of mental health: everybody knows what anxiety is, everybody has felt it. Everybody knows what sadness is,” said Dr. Marcia Norman, a psychologist at Positive Change Counseling in Winter Park. “The most important thing is that we normalize it.”
Norman said lately, she has been worried about teenagers, who have been dealing with increasing amounts of pressure on and off social media.
“It’s the pressure to go to college to achieve, to take IB classes, to work and work and work and work,” she said, adding there was a new round of pressure waiting for students transitioning from college to the working world.
If you, a friend or a family member is experiencing a mental health crisis, please call or text 800-273-8255 to talk to someone who can help.
From 2001 to 2019, suicide rates in Floridians ages 10 to 19 almost doubled. Norman said parents should be on the lookout for behavior changes in their children or a sudden lack of interest in particular activities.
She said it should be normal to ask teens how they’re doing.
“It’s hard to tease it apart sometimes in teens, but pay attention and talk to them,” she said.
Another area in the spotlight: the first responders who typically arrive to coax would-be jumpers off of bridges and overpasses.
“We have swept it under the rug for so many years and stigmatized when people have PTSD or if they’re going through something,” Orange County Sheriff John Mina said.
When not fighting crime, Mina is an outspoken mental health advocate and transparent about his own history and his decision to get help. He passes on the lessons he has learned to rookies and to increase awareness in his ranks.
Mina also cited the success of his department’s behavioral health unit, which responds to people in crisis.
He also said Florida could use more resources to assist those in need.
“Many times the family members, the people closest to the person in crisis, had no idea that this person would take their own life,” he said. “So it’s really hard for law enforcement to know if that a perfect stranger is really intent on doing this.”
You can find more resources and information about mental health and suicide prevention here.