RICHMOND — Cindy Duncan challenged those gathered Monday at her family’s Harvest Acres Farm to “plant seeds of hope” to help eradicate suicides in Washington County.

Duncan, who serves as co-chair of the South County Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds Zero Suicide Advisory Board, spoke to an audience of health care and social service providers, and state- and federally-elected and appointed officials who came together to learn about and celebrate the allotment of $2 million in federal funding to implement new screening and care for those at risk of taking their own lives.

According to South County Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds, one of nine health equity zones in the state, Washington County has the highest rate of suicide among the state’s five counties, and the rate grew 20 percent in two years from 2013 to 2015. Three of the state’s five towns with the highest suicide rates are in Washington County.

Duncan described her family’s ongoing journey to heal from her daughter Cassandra’s suicide at the age of 14 in 2005. The family has become very acquainted with the nation’s health care system as one of their sons was diagnosed with schizophrenia, and another son has cerebral palsy.

“Because of the journey I am on I have learned so much. After Cassie’s death and my son began to suffer — he’s been hospitalized 12 times — I kept hoping and praying that I wouldn’t lose another child. I realized what a mess the mental health system is and because of that I learned I had to make some changes. That is where my seeds of hope began,” Duncan said.

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