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Domestic violence and relationship issues are among the factors contributing to a growing number of suicides in York County, officials said Thursday.

Last year, the county saw 88 deaths. So far this year, there have been 54.

"We have become a hot spot for murder-suicides," said Cindy Richard, director of Southern Community Services, "The alarm is still ringing."

Activists working on prevention said they're searching for ways to make suicide a more open topic for discussion.

In an effort to create that dialogue, members of the York County Suicide Prevention Coalition and coalitions from Adams and Lancaster counties hosted the Tri-County Suicide Prevention Conference at the Wyndham Hotel in West Manchester Township Thursday.

The meeting brought more than 100 people from York, Adams and Lancaster counties.

Talking: Richard said she hopes meeting participants will feel comfortable talking about suicide beyond the conference.

She and York County leaders are going to take what they learn and concentrate efforts in addressing the community's spike in murder-suicides.

The event, planned to coincide with September as Suicide-Prevention Month, was the first time in eight years the three counties came together to talk about suicide and prevention efforts.

"The mission was simple," Richard said. "We wanted to open a dialogue on suicide prevention."

Officials were expected to spend the day exchanging those ideas through a series of workshops and an open-panel that talked about life after suicide.

Topics discussed include bullying, silent suicides and suicide prevention in the middle school setting.

In shock: Mark Schantzer, founder of the Detect Early Signs (DES) Foundation in Lancaster County, said he was in shock after his son died.

"There were not warning signs, he wasn't depressed," he said. "It just happened in the blink of an eye, we were devastated."

Schantzer's son, Desmond, was 21 when he committed suicide.

On the surface, things were going well. He was finished with school and had a full-time job and good relationships with friends and family.

After his death, Schantzer decided to take action, starting with a suicide prevention walk in Delaware County.

"As we were walking, I said to my wife we needed to bring this to Lancaster," he said. "By that Monday, I was starting the planning process."

This year's walk will be held Saturday in Lancaster, and about 400 people are expected to participate.

Participants will receive bright teal shirts, "Because when it comes to suicide you have to be bold, you have to talk about it," he said.

Money raised from the event will go to help educate people and prevent suicides.

For more information, visit http://walkfordes.org.

— Reach Sara Blumberg at sblumberg@yorkdispatch.com.

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