Troubling suicide trends in Indiana County

Desa Danielle Bane was a student at Penns Manor Area High School. Photo taken from a Nov. 19 post on the Facebook page In Memory of My Sister Desa Bane.

Desa Danielle Bane was a student at Penns Manor Area High School. Photo taken from a Nov. 19 post on the Facebook page In Memory of My Sister Desa Bane.

A Civic Project story

By Brian Davis

CLYMER — On May 3, a crowd gathered on the Penns Manor High School  track for a 5K Walk for Hope.  Some wore T-shirts depicting the faces of two young women.

Desa Danielle Bane and Jenna Paige Neff had much in common, in life as in death. They were teenagers. They were Indiana County high school students. And they were suicides, dead within days of each other in October.

At the high-school track, family members and friends mixed laughter and tears as they recounted their memories.

“Desa was a very bubbly, life-of-party kind of girl,”

Bane’s stepfather, Steve Vrana, said at the walk. “She was someone you wouldn’t expect something like this to happen to.”

Jenna Paige Neff was a student at Purchase Line High School. Photo taken from a Nov. 28 post on the Facebook page In Memory of Jenna Neff. Link:

Jenna Paige Neff was a student at Purchase Line High School. Photo taken from a Nov. 28 post on the Facebook page In Memory of Jenna Neff. Link:

“Jenna was the kind of person who, even if you haven’t talked to her for 10 years, she would still be really nice to you,” said Demi Hoover, 18, of Northern Cambria.

Bane, 15, of Clymer, was found dead Oct. 19. Four days later, Neff, 16, of Gipsy, was found dead in a similar fashion. Both hanged themselves.

Penns Manor High School senior Eden Bailey said Bane, a fellow student at Penns Manor, and Neff, a student at Purchase Line High School, inspired her to organize the Walk for Hope as a part of her graduation project. Bailey said she raised $5,500 to bring the Christian group The Power Team to Penns Manor and to promote suicide prevention.

DATA SHOW the local effort is timely. Thirteen people committed suicide in Indiana County in 2012, according to the county coroner’s office.  The number was the highest since 15 suicides were committed in the county in 2009.

The numbers put the county above the average suicides rates for the state and the nation.  Pennsylvania’s yearly rate of suicide is 12.4 per 100,000, the same as the national rate, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, a national non-profit organization based in New York City and Washington, D.C.

The average age of suicide victims in the county in 2012 was 35, according to the Coroner’s Office. This was the lowest average age in the past five years.

The county’s 2012 suicides also differed from previous years in that eight of the 13 were females who died by hanging.

The relative youth of recent local suicide victims has re-energized the Indiana County Suicide Task Force, said Dr. Ralph May, chief clinical officer at the Indiana Community Guidance Center.

“We’ve gone a long time without an adolescent suicide, about five years, in Indiana County,” May said In an April 23 interview in his office on old U.S. Route 119 North in Indiana.

May is co-chair of the task force. He said the group aims to prevent suicide, intervene when someone may be about to commit suicide and help families cope with suicide when it occurs.

“The task force is a great place to get involved, because it’s professionals, it’s community representatives and it’s families” May said. “The more people that are out there carrying the word, the better.”

The task force meets once a month at the Indiana County Department of Human Services.  Bane’s parents have become active members of the task force, May said.

“They’ve gone through a terrible loss and have turned that into something positive, which is the best thing you can do,” May said.

Vrana, Bane’s stepfather, said the task force can do much good. But first it must make its presence known.

“I don’t think a lot of people in the area are even aware of it,” Vrana said at the May 3 walk. “That’s the biggest part — raising the community’s awareness.”

AFSP’s awareness campaign includes a couple of motivational facts: “Suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students, and one in 12 teenagers will attempt suicide this year,” it reports on its website.

BANE’S FAMILY participated in the AFSP’s Out of the Darkness Overnight Experience, a 16-18 mile fundraising walk on June 1, according to the AFSP’s website.  The website  says proceeds from the walk will fund research, promote awareness, support suicide survivors and educate the public.

Cindy Vrana, Bane’s mother, wrote on the AFSP website  that she had raised $1,000.

Brian Davis, sophomore journalism major at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is from Heilwood.

Sidebar:  Suicide trends in Indiana County

Following are the most recent data on suicides in Indiana County

2008    2009   2010   2011   2012

Males                             12           12           6           7           5

Females                        1              3            3           3          8

Totals                            13            15           9          10        13

Average Age               43           42          36         47        35

Source: Indiana County Coroner’s Office.


Sidebar: For more information

For more information on this story or to get involved in this issue, please contact the following sources:

Indiana County Suicide Task Force
Michael Baker, co-chair
Phone:  (724) 465-3996

Dr. Ralph May, co-chair
Phone: (724) 465-5576

Indiana County Department of Human Services
300 Indiana Springs Rd. Suite 203
Indiana, Pa. 15701
Phone: (724) 463-8200

The Open Door
The Atrium
656 Philadelphia St.
Indiana, Pa. 15701
Phone: (724) 465-2605; crisis hotline: 1-877-333-2470

Community Guidance Center
Dr. Ralph May
Chief Clinical Officer
793 Old Route 119 North
Indiana, Pa.15701
Phone: 1-888-686-1991 (Toll Free)
(724) 465-5576

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
120 Wall St.
29th Floor
New York, NY 10005
Phone: (212) 363-3500
1010 Vermont Avenue N.W.
Suite 408
Washington, DC 20005
Phone: (202) 449-3600; toll-free: 1-888-333-2377

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Phone: 1-800-273-TALK

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