County Participating in Nationwide Rollout of Suicide Prevention Hotline



TOMPKINS COUNTY, NY – The Tompkins County Suicide Prevention and Crisis Service (SPCS) began in 1969 after local Ithacans lobbied for such services after several suicide deaths of University students Cornell. During this first year, the center received 387 calls; in 2021, the center received more than 6,000 calls.

In light of a new nationwide phone number for those with suicidal thoughts, the County Health and Human Services Committee discussed SPCS and how the new initiative could impact the local office . The full June 15 Health and Social Services Committee meeting can be viewed here.

Tiffany Bloss said SPCS currently operates from 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. seven days a week with 11 staff members and 10 volunteers, and the need for such crisis services in the county is steadily increasing.

Bloss also said that SPCS serves 11 counties in upstate New York, and if someone with an area code of 607 calls the National Suicide Hotline, SPCS is where the call is. is routed regardless of the caller’s current location.

On July 16, 988 will be launched, the new national lifeline for suicide prevention, similar to 911 but focused on mental health. “We’re really excited about this because it gives easy access to people struggling with a mental health crisis — it’s going to be the first-ever three-digit mental health crisis line in America,” Bloss said.

Approved by Congress in 2020, and even before COVID-19 hit, mental health crises across the country had been (and continue to be) on the rise.

SPCS works with local departments like the Tompkins County Communications Center to integrate 988 into the community. Part of the implementation plan consists of an increase in capacity with a target of extending 24/7 hours by the end of 2023 as well as an increase in the workforce with additional development, recruitment and training .

SPCS offers a variety of community education opportunities, including presentations at events, presentations on mental health crisis management, and collaboration with Cornell University’s Empathy, Assistance and Referral Services (EARS) program which offers a peer support.

At the end of June, SPCS presents the Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST), which is a 15-hour workshop open and free to the community.

Melanie Little, Director of Education for the Mental Health Association of Tompkins County (MHATC), “Suicide and various crises don’t happen in a vacuum – there really is this continuum of mental health and well-being that people experience and which requires an array of services”, Few said, continuing that the association focuses on early intervention, prevention and maintaining recovery when returning from crises and avoidance in the first place.

The Mental Health Association operates as a peer support organization and focuses on helping those in need with specialist peers who have had similar experiences. “Those who struggle with mental illness aren’t always treated with respect and dignity, and it’s really important to us that this is a space where they receive that,” Little said. “We are very interested in including as many voices and choices as possible from participants to help them be more collaborative in the services they receive elsewhere.”

Peer Specialists complete an application in New York State as well as courses with 3,000 hours of supervised peer support work. All MHATC staff members are Certified Peer Specialists or have certifications pending, and currently the organization has two Accredited Family Peer Advocates and one Youth Peer Advocate.

“A lot of people have never met a service provider who said, ‘Yeah, that happened to me too,'” Little said. “There’s something really valuable about sharing that lived experience with people.”

This September, MHA is opening a psychosocial drop-in center where individuals can attend support services, structured and recreational wellness activities, and socialize with others who can relate to lived experiences. “Isolation is a really huge risk factor for people and can really send people into crises, so our hope is that this service can be a protective factor,” Little said.

The Visitor Center will also serve as a space for community trainings and other programs.

Lawmaker Randy Brown called for a definition of “early intervention” in mental health, and Little said the national chapter of Mental Health America, the parent organization of MHATC, defines it as “before stage 4.” , that is, before an individual receives medical care or in the midst of a crisis. “A lot of people don’t sign on to help until they’re there – they go to hospital or their lives fall apart.”

Offering assistance in recognizing warning signs such as life disruptions is one of the early intervention methods that MHATC helps individuals use.

Other news and notes

  • Budget adjustments have been made to the Tompkins County Health Department (TCHD) and the Tompkins County Office of Aging to purchase new hybrid and electric vehicles.
  • A change will be made to COVID-19 surveillance testing in the county over the next two months, requiring the county to pay for 10% of tests that occur. The county will still be reimbursed out of federal funds for 90% of the tests administered, but the cost of each test is “protected hospital information” not available to the public.
  • TCHD Director of Public Health Frank Kruppa provided an update on the merger of TCHD and the Department of Mental Health, saying official branding is underway and a proposed name and logo will arrive in July .
  • Kit Kephart of the Department of Social Services said around 87 people are still being housed by the department due to the effects of the pandemic still being felt as well as high housing costs in the county.