BALTIMORE (WJZ) — The Maryland Department of Health on Friday released a new resource to raise awareness of suicide, the 2021 Suicide Awareness Prevention Month Toolkit: Stories of Hope. The toolkit aims to raise awareness, reduce the stigma around suicide, spread hope, build resiliency and encourage well-informed action, according to a department statement.

The toolkit features information and calls to action about sharing stories of resiliency, which can normalize conversations about suicide while creating safe spaces for people to ask for help, according to the statement.

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Suicide was the tenth leading cause of death overall in the U.S. in 2019, claiming nearly 48,000 lives. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, suicides among all ages have increased, according to preliminary national data. In May 2020, visits to emergency rooms for suspected suicide attempts began to increase among young people between the ages of 12 and 17, especially girls.

The total number of suicides increased by 18 percent from 2019 to 2020, according to the state Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

The toolkit includes sample social media messaging, a pledge to spread culturally informed and evidence-based suicide prevention strategies, information on the state Behavioral Health Administration’s (BHA) Stories of Hope campaign and fact sheets on:

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  • Supporting People with Lived Experience
  • Warning Signs of Suicide
  • Risk Factors of Suicide
  • Health Risk Factors of Suicide
  • Protective Factors of Suicide
  • Groups at Elevated Risk of Suicide
  • R.A.C.E. for Suicide Prevention
  • Lethal Means Safety

During the first two quarters of 2021, suicides by firearms increased from 43 percent to 51 percent during the same time in 2020, according to the Medical Examiner’s office. According to the statement, the overwhelming demand for guns in Maryland may lead to increased deaths by suicide, in addition to increased incidences of gun violence.

From the beginning of the pandemic, BHA has been reaching vulnerable populations through telehealth, working with behavioral health providers to identify gaps in service, and spreading awareness on suicide prevention and recovery efforts. BHA leaders developed a Student and Young Adult Resource Guide for Coping during COVID-19 with information and resources for young Marylanders.

BHA is also raising suicide prevention awareness by:

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  • Sharing short videos on social media about stories of hope and resiliency
  • Hosting the 33rd Annual Suicide Prevention Conference for behavioral health professionals on Oct. 6
  • Offering multiple workforce training to behavioral health professionals; developing resources to support primary care providers who administer suicide risk screenings, and training clinicians in Assessing for Suicide in Kids
  • Leading suicide prevention efforts for military service members, veterans and their families through the Governor’s Challenge to Prevent Suicide Among Service Members, Veterans, and their Families
  • Partnering with Psych Associates of Maryland to establish Operation Courage, a program providing crisis response to frontline workers
  • Partnering with the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems to provide free mental health counseling to nursing home staff
  • Partnering with Maryland State Department of Education through Project AWARE (Advancing Wellness and Resiliency in Education) to increase provider awareness on adverse childhood experiences and resilience, as well as facilitating Mental Health First Aid trainings
  • Promoting awareness and use of BHA’s mindresilience.org website

People experiencing thoughts of suicide should contact Maryland’s helpline by calling 211, and pressing one, texting 898-211, or visiting pressone.211md.org.

CBS Baltimore Staff