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Deputy’s encounter above interstate highway highlights importance of mental health services

LEXINGTON, S.C. – Thousands of cars drive over I-26 on St. Andrews Road every day. On Monday, Deputy James Forgione was one of those drivers, but after seeing a man by the railing, something told him to stop.

“You’re used to seeing somebody walk across a bridge or stopping for a moment and looking,” Forgione said. “You could clearly see that he was leaning over and the way that he was holding on, he was contemplating a decision at that moment. It just didn’t look right.”

Forgione’s instinct was right. The man admitted he was about to jump. He agreed to step away from the railing and is alive because someone intervened.

Susan Harris with the Lexington County Community Mental Health Center says the man’s struggle isn’t an uncommon one. According to the coroner’s office, preliminary numbers show there were 57 suicides in Lexington County in 2016 and 12 so far in 2017.

“It’s very common in Lexington County, all through the state,” Harris said. “We have many people with mental illnesses, suicidal thoughts and there has been an increase in suicide attempts in recent years.”

Signs of depression include changes in behavior like a loss of energy, appetite, isolation and no longer being interested in normal activities, according to Harris. Her colleague, Sarah Main, said if you notice these changes in someone, it’s time to do something.

“If somebody is getting to the point where they’re having suicidal thoughts, before they get a plan, before it escalates to a point that they’re in a crisis and the police are having to respond, it’s much better to get treatment early on,” Main said.

Depression is one of the more treatable diagnoses, according to Main.

Forgione said the Sheriff’s Department often responds to help suicidal subjects and wants anyone struggling to know that he and other deputies are another resource.

“There’s no problem that can’t be solved,” Forgione said. “It may seem like that at the moment, like what’s happening here is the end of the world, but if you’re able to step back and get some help, you’ll realize that you know what, it was only bad for that moment.”

For free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-TALK.

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