Group spreads suicide awareness, education

LEWISTOWN – Did you know that Mifflin County has a higher suicide rate than the national or state average? Did you know suicide is the 10th leading cause of death? Did you know that one in 10 adults report having depression?

Did you know that you have somewhere to turn to in Mifflin, Juniata or Huntingdon counties? A group of mental health representatives and concerned citizens have formed Juniata Valley Healing Connections, an organization dedicated to spreading suicide resource awareness and preventative educating across the tri-county area.

“I don’t think people know what resources are available to them,” said Cristy Rachau, program director at Square One Clubhouse and member of Healing Connections. “That’s why the organization is so important – to get that information out to people. That way, if you have a family member you think is contemplating suicide, you know where to go for help.”

The group was formed a year ago in response to the increasing local suicide rates, said Bob Henry, mental health adult program specialist with Juniata Valley Behavioral and Developmental Services. Those first meetings were used to educate members about suicide before developing an outreach approach, he said.

“Those first meetings were a lot about gathering information,” Henry said. “We had guest speakers come in, like funeral directors, clergy and families that had experienced suicide. It was more about education ourselves and figuring out what kind of outreach would work.”

Since then, the organization has developed pamphlets, appeared at a number of community events and spoken to church groups, said Stephanie Fry, community relations specialist at The Meadows Psychiatric Center/Universal Community Behavioral Health. The biggest of which is the use of the Tri-County Crisis Hotline, she said.

“Tri-County Crisis is regularly used by people who are already using mental health services and know the number by heart,” Fry said. “While we aren’t discouraging that, we want to make this resource more available and accessible to the broader community as a suicide prevention tool.”

Marketing ideas include developing highway billboards, working with realtors to put magnets in rental properties and creating drink coasters for local bar use, Henry said.

“There’s a lot of resources out there that folks just aren’t aware of,” Henry said. “For instance, if someone is contemplating suicide and they are drinking at a bar and they see one of coasters, they can call the crisis line. There’s a mobile response service where a representative will come out to meet any one, at anytime, anywhere, to talk.”

However, the after effects of a suicide are just as important to address as the prevention of a suicide, Henry said. Not only is there a stigma for disclosing depression, but also a stigma for a completed suicide, he said.

“It’s different dealing with a natural death than a suicide,” Henry said. “The grieving process is different and how its perceived by the community is different.”

Healing Connections is working to create a resource phone number specifically designed for those affected by suicide, Fry said.

For more information about Juniata Valley Healing Connections, contact Stephanie Fry at or Bob Henry at 242-6467, ext. 107. Interested persons are also invited to attend the next meeting at 9 a.m. on June 26 at 399 Green Ave. Ext, Lewistown.