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Increase in suicides spurs Lockport officials to promote mental health services

LOCKPORT – With Lockport police reporting the most suicides in recent years and a spike in mental health calls, city officials are planning an effort to publicize available crisis services in the community.

Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey told the Common Council on Wednesday that a public meeting is being planned for 6 p.m. Aug. 20 in City Hall, featuring the Mental Health Association in Niagara County and other agencies.

“We wanted people to hear more information about symptoms for people in their family who might be in crisis and what services are available,” said McCaffrey, who worked in the mental health field for 18 years before entering politics.

Police Chief Lawrence M. Eggert said Thursday that there have been six suicides in the City of Lockport since Jan. 1, compared with a total of eight in the preceding four years. In addition, police records data coordinator Mary Schaffert said, there have been three attempted suicides this year.

From 2010 through 2014, there were eight suicides and 41 suicide attempts in Lockport, a city of about 20,000 people.

“This is a pretty significant spike for us the last seven months, so we’re trying to reach out to the community to show that we have these services available,” Eggert said. He said people need to know the signs to watch out for among friends or relatives in crisis.

Six suicides in a year in a city of 20,000 would exceed America’s highest suicide rate for any state, which, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is 29.6 per 100,000 people in Wyoming. Lockport’s rate this year works out to 30 per 100,000. The statewide average in New York is 8.3 suicides per 100,000 people, which is the third-lowest rate in the country. The federal agency’s latest figures are for 2012.

Lockport police have handled 81 calls regarded as mental health-related so far this year, up from 51 in the first seven months of 2014. The total for all of 2014 was 116 mental health calls.

McCaffrey said the increase in mental health calls “crosses all ages, genders and ethnicities.”

Eggert said officers are trained at the police academy and later on how to respond to a mentally ill person. He said state law allows police who encounter a person “who is an immediate danger to themselves” to take him into custody and transport him against his will for examination at Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center, the mental health center in Niagara County.

Eggert said the Police Department’s community liaison, Mark Sanders, is setting up the Aug. 20 forum. “A lot of the problem, I think, is that sometimes people just don’t know what services, through the police or others, we can offer people with mental health issues,” Eggert said. He said if the sources of help are better publicized and the signs of trouble are known to friends and relatives, “We can hopefully intercede and can get some treatment for these people.”

McCaffrey said arrangements are being made to televise the Aug. 20 meeting on the same cable channel that shows Council meetings, in order to maximize exposure to the information about crisis services available in the Lockport area.