Last updated: February 17. 2013 5:31AM - 47 Views

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Local mental health professionals are working to re-establish a psychological autopsy committee that would investigate suicides in hopes of gaining insight that will aid prevention efforts.

The committee, which will include representatives from multiple disciplines, is looking to carry on work done by a team 10 years ago.

That committee studied hundreds of coroner's reports dating back to 1992 and conducted interviews with families in an effort to identify the most common factors that led persons to kill themselves.

While work was already under way to restart the committee, the deaths of five teenagers from suicide this year, including four that occurred within a recent eight-day span, have provided an additional impetus, said Rich Burns, acting director of the Luzerne-Wyoming Counties Mental Health and Developmental Services program.

"We can't undo this tragedy," Burns said. "The whole purpose is … to see if there are any common factors so we can learn what we can do to prevent future tragedies."

A psychological autopsy involves a detailed examination of all aspects of the suicide victim's life to determine if there are any common patterns among individuals who kill themselves.

"It helps us understand who the person was and what was happening prior to the suicide so we can focus our efforts on the most preventive measures," said Tara Gallagher, the children's services coordinator for the county mental health agency who is helping restart the committee.

Gallagher noted officials in Schuylkill County utilized psychological autopsies to discover that a large number of suicide victims there had been at a tavern prior to their deaths.

"They used that information to place posters in bars telling people who to call for help," she said.

The 2002 Luzerne County committee helped uncover differences in the manner in which youths and adults manifest signs of suicides.

The panel concluded that triggers for youths include loss of a loved one and romantic break-ups, and warning signs included self abusive cutting, risk taking and withdrawal from society. Adults might have experienced financial troubles, depression, illness or substance abuse.

Gallagher said formation of a new committee is still in the preliminary phases. It's not clear when it might begin work.

Acting Coroner William Lisman said he has not yet spoken with anyone regarding the committee. He said he supports the effort, but noted he expects it may find, as the 2002 committee did, that surviving family members of suicide victims might be reluctant to participate.

"We were the go-between between the group and the surviving family members. The vast majority did not want to participate," Lisman said.

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