Fighting stigma associated with mental illness

Highland County Suicide Prevention Coalition trying to stem suicide attempts

By John Hackley - [email protected]



Since its inception in February of 2020, the Highland County Suicide Prevention Coalition has been working to stem suicide attempts and deaths throughout the county.

The organization, comprised of local health professionals, social service professionals and community advocates, has a vision of leading the county in providing and promoting opportunities for all residents to become active in reducing suicides.

“They are really doing some great things,” said Paint Valley Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Board (ADAMH) Associate Director Melanie Swisher, who is a member of the coalition. “I think we have good momentum right now, and I think the more the community knows about it, the more it will impact the community.”

In January, the group held a Highland County Suicide Prevention Awareness Day and provided community training to help people know how to identify warning signs of suicide and what to do to help someone who may be vulnerable.

The coalition, in partnership with the Highland County Health Department, has also provided resources to schools in the county, and counselors and teachers were equipped with information about what to do if a suicide happens in the schools.

The Paint Valley ADAMH Board recently funded a program to provide the coalition with loss care packages for families of suicide victims. Swisher said this is important as a “post-vention” measure because those who lose a loved one to suicide are at a higher risk of suicide themselves.

Wellness bags have also been provided to emergency rooms by the coalition to supply resources to people who come with mental health concerns.

“They had this amazing outreach that they did at the fair for farmers that was really awesome,” said Swisher. The event was made possible by a stigma reduction grant to Highland County Community Action through the Ohio Department of Mental Health.

“It was a breakfast and round-table called ‘Harvesting Healthy Minds’ that provided discussion and resources around mental health and suicide awareness,” said Highland County Community Action Deputy Director Tara Campbell, who chairs the coalition.

Campbell said it is important to understand the unique aspects of suicide prevention in a rural community.

“A lot of farmers have a job where they work alone a lot, and they don’t have a job where they go in and there are people at work to greet them and to identify if they’ve been acting differently lately or not talking as much,” she said. “Obviously, with a lot farmers, there’s a lot of pride there, and you’re a hard worker and you learn to do a lot of things on your own as a farmer, so I think it’s hard for them to reach out and ask for help.”

On average, a million people die from suicide annually around the world. In Ohio, there were 1,838 deaths by suicide in 2020. There were seven deaths by suicide in Highland County in 2021, and the 10-year high in the county was 11 in 2016.

“Untreated depression is probably the biggest cause of suicides,” said Swisher. “That’s why we really want to let the community know it’s OK to reach out and get help, and we want to try to fight that stigma against getting help for mental illness. We believe that if people would feel comfortable reaching out and getting help that would reduce the suicide numbers.”

Campbell encouraged those interested in becoming part of the coalition to visit

The National Suicide Hotline can be reached at 800-273-8255 or locally at 937-393-9904. Additionally, help is available by texting ‘4HOPE’ to 741-741.

Reach John Hackley at 937-402-2571

Highland County Suicide Prevention Coalition trying to stem suicide attempts

By John Hackley

[email protected]