Though the rate of suicide in the state of Ohio for the year 2020 has not been officially documented, the number is likely to be significant and sobering, due in no small part to the stress and isolation associated with the COVID-19 lockdowns. Even before the pandemic, an alarming number of lives were being lost each year to suicide in our state. In fact, according to the latest statistics from the Ohio Department of Health, in 2018 alone there were 1,836 suicides in Ohio—five per day.
As the pandemic persists, the behavioral healthcare experts at the Zepf Center are noticing a trend. “What we’re seeing is that a majority of the clients coming through our intake process who have suicidal thoughts are expressing that those thoughts are due to the pandemic,” states Kitty Slight, BA, OCPSA, project manager for the Zepf Center’s Emergency Response for Suicide Prevention program. “Also, going back to March when the first lockdown was implemented, we saw that many victims of domestic violence weren’t seeking treatment for their injuries. Many are just now seeking assistance. Our entire staff is witnessing how the pandemic has impacted the clients we see here every day.”
Some encouraging news for our community is that the Zepf Center’s already robust suicide-prevention services were strengthened even further this July when the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) awarded the center an $800,000 Emergency Response for Suicide Prevention grant, which aims to advance efforts to prevent suicide and suicide attempts among adults age 25 and older in Northwest Ohio.
Slight explains that the Zepf Center was awarded this grant for several reasons. “One is that we’ve been actively using telehealth services throughout the pandemic. We’ve always used this technology because many of our clients are isolated due to their mental health struggles and it’s very important to check in on them regularly, but we really ramped up back in March. In addition, we have a great working relationship with all area hospitals and a very in-sync hospital team working with clients entering and exiting the hospital system. Furthermore, the Zepf Center is one of the largest behavioral healthcare providers in the area with staff to accommodate all levels of risk and a very robust medical provider staff that includes psychiatrists and nurse practitioners. Our success is due to the structure we already have in place,” she says.
In addition to working closely with area hospitals, the Zepf Center partners with two domestic violence shelters in our community—the YWCA and Bethany House. Slight points out that the SAMHSA grant has made it possible for the Zepf Center to place telehealth services inside these shelters, which helps address the unique challenges of isolation that survivors of domestic violence are facing during the pandemic. “Not only does this technology enable us to connect with and assist victims of domestic violence, but often their children as well. This funding truly is a blessing, and the timing couldn’t be more perfect,” She says.
Another innovative way the Zepf Center is connecting with the community is through the Zepf Center Prevention YouTube Channel, which features a series of brief videos, called Mental Health Moments, that were created to educate, empower, and encourage viewers who are grappling with various mental health issues, looking for some life-skills advice, or just in need of a little inspiration.
In each video, creator Jeanine Lindquist, OCPS, M.Ed., of the Zepf Center Prevention Department, touches on a different mental-health-related topic, such as hope, forgiveness, anger, perspective, self-care, stress management, and many others. Each video closes with Something to Smile About—typically an endearing, entertaining pet-themed clip—followed by a quick tip on gambling awareness and a listing of vital mental-health resources available in the community. Building on the popularity of Mental Health Moments, Zepf Center Prevention has also launched a multi-part series of videos entitled Insights into the World of Gaming and Gambling.
“These videos can benefit anyone at any level and at any age—from teenagers to people in recovery. Different people get different insights from them, and it’s exciting to see how they’re able to reach the vast majority of people. We’ve learned that they’re being used in different schools, counseling sessions, and even an out-of-state law firm to help educate and inspire people,” says Lindquist.
Slight emphasizes that all these innovative services reflect the Zepf Center’s commitment to meeting the needs of the community and providing a full continuum of care, whether in person, via telehealth technology, or through videos. “We offer a broad range of mental health, addiction, and vocational services,” she says. “A lot of clients who are coming in with suicidal thoughts are experiencing anxiety due to job loss and financial insecurity, and many are asking for assistance in getting food, clothing, or housing. Through our services and our network of community partners, we’re able to help them meet all these needs.”
A crucial component of that care continuum for individuals at risk for suicide is the support of a Resiliency Coach. These individuals have had firsthand experiences in their own lives that enable them to walk alongside clients on their journey through the Zepf Center program, provide ongoing support, and keep them engaged in a suicide care management plan. “Our Resiliency Coaches are ready to reach out to these individuals and begin working with them on day one,” Slight says.
For more information on the Zepf Center, please visit www.zepfcenter.org or call 419-841-7701. If you or someone you know is currently in crisis, you are encouraged to call 911 or proceed to the nearest hospital emergency room. Other vital resources that are immediately available include the Crisis Text Line (text “Home” to 741741) and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.