Over the past five years, an average of 18 people have died by suicide annually within Delaware County.

With help from a new grant, officials at HelpLine of Delaware and Morrow Counties hope to bring that number down.

The nonprofit, which has offices in Delaware and Mt. Gilead, announced Feb. 20 it had received a $9,675 grant from the Delaware County Foundation to support programs related to suicide prevention. Founded in 1970, HelpLine offers crisis-support services to residents who reach out via phone calls or text messages 24 hours a day.

The grant will support the eighth-annual Suicide Prevention Walk, scheduled for Sept. 8 in downtown Delaware, along with the expansion of HelpLine's efforts to reach the friends and loved ones of people who have died by suicide.

Marlene Casini, president and CEO of the Delaware County Foundation, said in a statement the grant will have wide-reaching effects in the county.

"We're grateful to be a part of fueling this important, lifesaving work at HelpLine," Casini said. "We understand that suicide affects everyone and we want to ensure that hope and help is readily available in our community."

Michelle Price, HelpLine's suicide prevention program manager, said the grant will aid the organization in its outreach to "survivors of suicide loss." She said such survivors are at higher risk for suicide themselves because of the "complicated grief" they experience after the death of a loved one.

HelpLine plans to use funding from the grant to conduct a spring meeting for its Survivors of Suicide Loss Support Group, with monthly meetings of group members to follow.

Price said the group offers a safe space for people affected by suicide to meet others facing similar challenges.

"Having a support group to talk about that kind of loss is very impactful," she said.

Sue Hanson, HelpLine's executive director, said the group helps survivors make "healthy connections so they can work through their grief." She said acquaintances of people dealing with the aftermath of a suicide often avoid the topic out of fear or politeness.

"Extended family and friends don't always know what to say," she said. "It can be very isolating."

Price said feelings of "connectedness" to other people can help reduce the risk of suicide.

While stories of children who die by suicide can be more likely to receive media attention, Price said locally and nationally, it's middle-aged men who are at the greatest risk. She said people who suffer from depression also are more likely to attempt or die by suicide.

Eighteen deaths were documented as suicides in 2017 in Delaware County, according to HelpLine. Twenty-eight deaths were documented as suicides in 2016 in the county -- the most in the past five years.

Price said it is estimated suicide attempts occur 25 times more often than deaths by suicide. If that estimate is accurate, it means hundreds of county residents are affected by suicide or a suicide attempt every year.

People who want to join the Survivors of Suicide Loss Support Group or participate in suicide-prevention efforts may email Price at mprice@helplinedelmor.org or call 740-363-1835.

Anyone experiencing a crisis may call HelpLine at 740-369-3316 or 800-684-2324, or text "helpline" to 898211.

For more information about the group's services, visit www.helplinedelmor.org.

tgallick@thisweeknews.com

@twgallick