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Pasco officials step up suicide prevention efforts

NEW PORT RICHEY — He found the suicidal 17-year-old in a park, hiding behind a big bush. Her knees were drawn to her chest. She held a cellphone to her left ear.

Deputy David Rife pleaded with her on that day in July 2010 to come talk to him. He mentioned his own two daughters.

The girl's answers chilled him.

"If you're a good person, please leave me now."

"If you have daughters, go be with them. You don't to want be here."

She told the ex-boyfriend on the phone that she couldn't go on.

"I love you," she said. Then she pulled a silver pistol from her pocket, put it in her mouth and pulled the trigger.

Rife and a group of backup deputies performed CPR but couldn't save the girl, who became one of the grim statistics that make Pasco County's suicide rate among the highest in Florida.

"It haunted me," said Rife, who ended up getting his own counseling to deal with the horrifying images of that day.

On Wednesday, a group of deputies, mental health professionals and volunteers gathered to mark September as Suicide Prevention Month and let residents know that help is available.

Doug Leonardo, executive director of BayCare Behavioral Health, said some suicides can be tied to substance abuse, which is a huge problem in Pasco. The county also is home to a lot of combat veterans who might suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

He also noted that teens are navigating a world with easy access not only to drugs but texting and social media.

"The things they can do today encourage isolation," he said.

Signs for parents to look for include tiredness, anxiety, no longer performing in school or becoming disinterested in hobbies or sports that they once enjoyed, and radical changes in eating or sleeping habits.

Statements such as "I wish I weren't here" and "You'd be better off without me," should be taken seriously. Parents shouldn't be afraid to confront kids about plans to take their own lives.

"We need to get people to be asking that question," said David Chamberlain, of AWARE, a suicide prevention group.

Pat Scimone-Almasy, of the Pasco chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said the group recently was able to get its training program Parents and Teachers as Allies into the school system. The in-service program focuses on helping school professionals and families understand the early warning signs of mental illnesses and how to best link youth with services.

The group also offers crisis intervention training to law enforcement officers.

"We are connecting the dots here," Scimone-Almasy said.

Rife, who took the training after the girl took her life, wondered whether it could have changed the outcome if he had taken it beforehand. Probably not, he said.

"I don't think there's any one solution to this," he said. "But I don't think that we should stop trying to come up with one."

Suicides

from 2009-11

CountyNumberRate

(suicides per 100,000)
Pasco28619.8
Pinellas55017.7
Hillsborough48612.9
Hernando5120.8
Florida8,37213.8
Liberty26.7 (lowest rate)
Calhoun1328.5 (highest rate)

Rates calculated using July 1 population estimates from the Florida Legislature, Office of Economic and Demographic Research.

Source: Florida Department of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics as of Sept. 26, 2012.

For help

• National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255

• Veterans Suicide Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255

• National Alliance on Mental Illness Pasco information and referral line: (727) 992-9653

Pasco officials step up suicide prevention efforts 09/26/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 26, 2012 8:57pm]

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