Twenty-one people took their lives in Lycoming County last year.
The number itself may not mean much to most people, even when considered with respect to suicide figures of recent years.
Yes, it marked the highest number of suicides for the county, at least since such records have been kept over the past seven years.
Officials only can speculate reasons as to why the rate has increased.
They feel they can at least reach out to people contemplating suicide.
Joe Miller is chairman of the Lycoming County Suicide Prevention Advisory Committee.
"I have actually experienced suicides in my family and with friends. After the third suicide almost 10 years ago. I started looking around to see what things were available both on the preventive end and after care," he said. "I was disappointed to find there really wasn't much around here."
The advisory committee, he noted, was formed in 2009.
The group includes community members from various walks of life including mental health, counseling and the county coroner's office.
"In essence, the group brings together various people to find avenues for addressing the issue," he said.
Each year, the group sponsors a walk to raise money and bring awareness to suicide.
Grieving family members in need of help and counseling can be pointed toward resources. The group purchases materials to help get the word out about suicide prevention.
Lycoming County Coroner Charles Kiessling said the rising number of suicides is disturbing.
"It's been a steady increase over the last five years," he said. "We maxed out this past year. It's the highest I've seen while in office."
There have been at least 10 suicides annually between 2004 and 2011. But 2010, when 16 suicides were recorded, marked the highest number until last year.
Not surprisingly, suicide often is tied to unhappiness and sadness, a deep unrelenting dark sense of desperate hopelessness within a person.
"A lot of times it's domestic issues, falling out with spouses. It can be financial," Kiessling said.
Miller said he has seen common themes tied to suicide - failed relationships and other issues that result in major life upheaval such as the loss of a job, a downturn in finances or even major health problems.
"They really see no way out," he said. "They say that most people who die by suicide don't want to die, they just want to escape pain."
Those contemplating suicide can experience a range of emotions and behavior patterns: Feelings of hopelessness, guilt, anger and rage. There can be changes in sleeping patterns, problems with concentration, low energy levels, even reckless or impulsive actions.
"Often times, people are not aware of how important they are to their particular circle of family or friends. They don't know support or help is right there. I'm a big proponent of counseling and therapy and medication," Miller said.
"Through working with people, I think probably the biggest thing I learned is I've talked to people who were on the edge, and they got help and lived a productive life. People do emerge from the dark valley. They have been able to climb above their troubles."
Concerns about the rising tide of suicide prompted the United Churches of Lycoming County to take action.
"We have really put it as a major focus," said United Churches Executive Director Gwen Bernstine. "We started to really think about it in the spring of last year."
The Family Life Task Force of United Churches, which does educational outreach, gathered people on the topic to see what could be done in the way of prevention and awareness.
Bernstine said she's seen a great deal of response to addressing the issue, with involvement of community organizations - nursing homes, senior organizations, schools and colleges, mental health-related groups.
Suicide, she noted, is an issue that simply must be discussed rather than kept quiet.
"It's hard for most of us to understand that there is no other option than to end our lives. Most of us don't realize that depression can put us in that spot," she said.
Bernstine noted that everyone at some point feels sad, depressed, hopeless.
The difference is that some people see no escape other than to end their lives.
"Every single one of us has thought: Is there any use to this (life)? But we move out of that. But people in these stages of depression don't move out of that. All of us have been in that spot fleetingly. For the grace of God, most of us move out of that."
Miller said it's important to get the word out that there exists a better option, that of embracing life rather than ending it.
"Our hope is to send Chuck (Kiessling) out on fewer and fewer of these emergency calls," he said. "Not only that, I look at every suicide as a loss in two different ways. It leaves behind grief for those who lose a person. It's also a loss of human potential. I think our hope, as we get the word out, is there are alternatives to just saying, 'Life sucks.' "
The National Suicide Hotline is available 24 hours a day at 1-800-SUICIDE or 1-800-273-TALK.
The Lycoming-Clinton County Crisis Education Hotline is 326-7895 or 748-2262.