by Jessica C. Pirro, LMSW

When someone dies by suicide, the first question we often ask is “Why?” Why didn’t we know he was struggling? Why didn’t she get help? Why didn’t he tell someone? When tragic situations occur, we want to understand why. There are times we can make a cause-and-effect connection that can help us understand the why, but there are many times we cannot. As a community, we need to learn from the stories of those who have died, and strive to reduce further suicides.

As we start Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, we want to share what we have learned and describe the efforts in our community to reduce risk, increase help, and save lives. As the CEO of Crisis Services, Erie County’s only 24-hour crisis center, I see firsthand the daily struggles people face that may lead them to contemplate suicide. Our 24-hour hotline counselors provide constant support. Our mobile outreach team makes numerous crisis response visits each day to help people remain safe from themselves, or prevent them from hurting others during a mental health crisis. But responding to the crisis is not the only answer. With each experience, we learn how to enhance our prevention strategies.

We’ve learned that community education, reducing the stigma of mental illness, and helping people to connect to services will help someone thinking about suicide. Crisis Services is the agency lead for the Suicide Prevention Coalition. This multidisciplinary stakeholder group’s mission is to provide awareness and training to create a community competent in addressing suicide.

While suicide deaths are rising nationally, for the first time in four years our community has seen an 11 percent decrease in deaths by suicide. The Coalition continues to push this conversation forward. Our members trained 3,831 Erie County school personnel in the Suicide Safety for School program. Our members participate in American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s Out of the Darkness Walk. We are producing a men’s mental health television commercial, encouraging middle-aged men, who experience the highest rates of suicide in Erie County, to find strength in seeking help.

We need to prevent stigma and stereotypes that continue to isolate people into the thought that suicide is their only answer. Our team is working diligently on a project around gun safety and suicide, and we continue to encourage anyone to call Crisis Services’ 24-hour hotline at 716-834-3131 for help and support.

It is natural to seek the “why” when something bad occurs. We cannot always answer the “why,” but we can look to ask “how.” How can we help more?” How can we educate more? How can we make sure that services like Crisis Services and the Coalition keep moving us forward to a suicide-safer community? As we recognize Suicide Prevention Month, help be part of the “how” by letting others know they are not alone, and that there is help and hope. For more information on our prevention efforts, visit or

Jessica C. Pirro, LMSW is the Chief Executive Officer of Crisis Services.