Cayuga County’s suicide rate dropped about 35% last year compared to its peak during the early years of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, mental health care providers in the area still face significant challenges, as other statistics and eight local people’s deaths by suicide indicate.
According to Cayuga County Coroner Dr. Adam Duckett, the eight people who took their own lives in 2022 ranged in age from 16 to 81. Suicide and the mental health issues that lead to it are his primary concerns as a primary care physician, he said. Even though the pandemic is subsiding, the stress, anxiety, and other emotional problems it caused do not appear to be abating.
Duckett added that the county’s suicide rate before the pandemic began in March 2020 was too high, and they’re still not meeting the need. The eight suicides were down from the previous year’s recent high of 13, which followed 12 in 2020, six in 2019, and five in 2018. These figures mostly exceed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s national suicide rate of approximately 14 per 100,000 people.
Similarly, the Auburn Police Department’s suicide attempt investigations decreased by 17% last year, from 245 in 2021 to 204 in 2022. Mental health investigations, on the other hand, increased by 24% to 429, the highest number since 2017. Numbers from the Cayuga County Community Mental Health Center were similarly mixed. Director of Community Services Lauren Walsh reported 1,607 intakes last year after 1,616 in 2021, 1,487 in 2020, 1,715 in 2019, and 1,515 in 2018. Meanwhile, crisis visits dropped 6% to 1,057 in 2022 after reaching 1,126 in 2021.
The center’s high numbers are cause for concern, especially when it comes to youth intakes and crisis visits at the North Street facility. Intakes of individuals aged 18 and younger rose 19% to 230 last year from 187 in 2021, and crisis visits for the same age group increased 11% to 172 from 153 in 2021. Walsh believes that the numbers show that children who learned from home during the early years of the pandemic are still affected by anxiety, depression, and self-harm or substance abuse at-risk behaviors.
Governor Kathy Hochul’s 2024 budget proposal includes a $1 billion multi-year plan to overhaul the state’s continuum of mental health care, which may benefit the Community Mental Health Center. The plan includes a $20 million expansion of mental health services in schools, the restoration of behavioral health beds that were removed to treat COVID-19 patients, and investing more in the mental health care workforce.
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