SCRANTON, LACKAWANNA COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — Suicide claims more than 44,000 American lives each year. That figure is more than double the number of deaths caused by homicide. Local officials are sifting through the numbers to find solutions.   

Nationally, nearly half of all suicides are the result of a gunshot wound. That figure is even higher in Lackawanna County. On Wednesday, officials launched a new initiative to prevent suicide in the county.

What was seen Wednesday morning on Lackawanna County Courthouse Square was real, raw emotion. University of Scranton students consoled another student who recently lost a friend to suicide. University of Scranton Healthy Minds Club President Deidre Dzugay said, “If it hits one person, it’s going to affect multiple people so, you know, if it affects her, it affects us.”

That’s why officials gathered for a news conference in front of the courthouse to announce an initiative called “Let’s Stop Suicide”. Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine’s Behavioral Health Initiative teamed up with the Lackawanna County District Attorney’s Office and the Northeast Suicide Prevention Initiative for this new resource. “We felt as though within Lackawanna County that a focus on suicide awareness and suicide prevention was really important,” said Geisinger Commonwealth School of Medicine Behavioral Health Initiative Executive Director Terri Lacey.

Lackawanna County is touched deeply by suicide. 35 individuals died at their own hands in 2014. Since then, that number has topped 40 each of the last two years.

The new initiative provides lock boxes to local pharmacies to keep unwanted drugs out of a suicidal person’s hands. And gun locks featuring the suicide prevention lifeline number on it are being provided to gun shop owners to give to gun buyers. Nearly 60 percent of suicides in Lackawanna County result from gunshot wounds. Northeast Suicide Prevention Initiative President Kathy Wallace said, “This initiative keeps things safe until the guns can be taken out of the house. This should be on them all the time.”

Ed Shoener, whose 29-year-old daughter suffered from bipolar disorder, died in 2016 from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He hopes this new initiative saves lives. “Sometimes the best thing you can do is give people a little bit of time to step back from actually pulling the trigger.”

Just as important, organizers of “Let’s Stop Suicide” hope the initiative helps destigmatize what’s considered a public health and public safety crisis.