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Graduate Student Focuses on Assisting Seniors; Preventing Suicides

In January, members of the Rotary Club of Lake Spivey/Clayton County were treated to a special Zoom presentation from Mary Chase Mize, a PhD candidate at Georgia State University (GSU). What made the program special? First, her description of a new way Rotarians can serve their communities. And second, her background - Ms. Mize received her undergraduate degree from Mississippi State University in 2013, with scholarship assistance provided by her hometown Rotary Club, the Rotary Club of Somerville Tennessee.

Since graduating from Mississippi State, she has earned a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling from GSU, and is working on both a PhD in  in Counselor Education and Practice and a Master of Arts degree in Gerontology - all at GSU.

Since 2018, Ms. Mize has been working with a research team that has partnered with the Administration for Community Living, which is a unit within the United States Department of Health and Human Services that was created to assist older adults and people of all ages with disabilities to live where they choose and with the ability to be active in their communities. A role of Ms. Mize’s research team has been to initiate grant-funded research about how to equip home-delivered meal volunteers with skills to help older adults who might be experiencing mental health distress, especially those who may have thoughts of suicide. Suicide, Ms. Mize explained in her presentation, not only is a leading cause of death across the human lifespan but especially so for older adults. Older adults constitute 16% of the U. S. population but account for about 19% of all suicide deaths. Furthermore, researchers believe that suicide behaviors by older adults exceed the number of reported suicides by 40 to 100 times, which means, Ms. Mize says, that although older adults already have one of the highest rates of suicide in the U. S., many more of their suicide deaths go unreported or unnoticed.

Precipitating factors are many. Older adults, for example, who complete suicide are more likely to be widow(er)s, to live alone, to perceive their health status as poor, to experience poor sleep, to experience loneliness, and to experience one or more stressful life events such as financial discord. Ms. Mize comments that many researchers agree that social isolation and loneliness play a key role in the high rate of suicide in later life.

The enhanced opportunity for service Ms. Mize presented to the club was an opportunity to participate in her research program and receive two days of Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) free. The training is valued at $500. This is a training model that is recognized by the Centers for Disease Control and is used in crisis centers across our country to equip volunteers like Rotarians with skills to help someone at a time when they are in their greatest need. Ms. Mize further explained that she was an ASIST Master-level trainer who during 2019 and 2020 had trained more than 150 metro Atlanta volunteers. As a result of that training, she said she has learned of 35 individuals who used the ASIST training to help older adults and other community members who were in distress and experiencing suicidal thoughts.

Training volunteers, Ms. Mize said, especially Rotarians, is meaningful because “by nature of simply who they are, are already well-positioned to support vulnerable individuals….” For additional information about suicide in the older adult population or the ASIST program, please contact Ms. Mary Chase Mize at email mmize1@student.gsu.edu.

Posted by Ron Swofford
February 5, 2021

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