Sometimes our friends here in the Keys are gripped by such overwhelming moods and problems that they need help from others. In fact, the emotional black cloud can be so blinding, so confusing, suicide might seem like a viable option.

Recently, a 60-year-old male, let’s call him Mike, came to the Guidance/Care Center in a crisis. He had severe alcohol use, depression, anxiety, feelings of guilt and low motivation.  Mike was admitted to GCC Marathon as an inpatient, then was connected to relapse prevention and psychiatric treatment after his discharge. 

He now attends group and psychiatric appointments regularly. Mike reports that his depression and anxiety have decreased, and he feels much better. He has maintained sobriety, stable housing and employment since his discharge.

“Although sometimes a crisis does require an inpatient stay, it is not hopeless,” said Maureen Dunleavy, a licensed mental health counselor and regional vice president of the Guidance/Care Center, Inc. “Our community neighbors can get through with a little help.”

Dunleavy told Keys Weekly that since 2014, Monroe County has seen some of the highest suicide rates in the state. Then Hurricane Irma hit in 2017, and the U.S. Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) did a study to show the impact of natural disasters on suicide rates. 

The upshot? Natural disasters have a huge impact on people between 40 and 60 years old, with renters being in the highest risk group. “Socioeconomic status doesn’t matter — just that you are a renter, and you don’t see a way out. We try to keep people from drinking when they feel that way.”

During this COVID year,  Dunleavy saw national data about anxiety and substance abuse going up, so the clinic applied for funding from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration for a suicide prevention campaign.

“We won an $800,000 grant last year, to be used for free mental health services and free suicide prevention training,” she said. 

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Dunleavy and the GCC are on high alert this spring. Studies have shown that not only does Monroe County have some of the highest suicide rates in Florida, but also that spring is a particularly vulnerable time. “There are fewer holidays in the springtime and fewer chances to connect with others. There’s also Seasonal Affective Disorder, add to that the pandemic, and hurricane season is coming.”

To combat this stressful time in the spring, Dunleavy and the GCC have already presented a suicide prevention webinar in April, with another scheduled for May.

The free, live 60-minute suicide prevention training will be offered from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. on Friday, May 14.  Called a “Lunch and Learn BlueJeans Webinar Event,” the topics will include identifying suicide risk, warning signs, communication and actions to assist. The impact of COVID-19 on mental health and practical coping methods will be presented and discussed. Participants are encouraged to prepare questions about how to approach discussion with others about suicide. 

And because we all love success stories, Dunleavy gave Keys Weekly another reason for hope via email: “A 43-year-old female was admitted to GCC Marathon due to anxiety, depression, and daily alcohol use. Following discharge, she was connected to therapeutic, psychiatric and case management services. She has been utilizing coping skills, maintaining sobriety and is experiencing decreased symptoms of depression and anxiety. Even through the rest of this pandemic and while experiencing serious life stressors, she has been effectively coping now.”

Register for the webinar by email to [email protected], using the subject line “GCC Suicide Prevention+Date.” 

If you are thinking of self-harm and suicide, or simply need help, you are not alone. Call the Guidance Care Center at 305-434-7660, option #8. The GCC has walk-in clinics in Key Largo, Marathon and Key West.

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