Suicide prevention month: Groups work to address ‘public health emergency’

Whidbey groups are working to show that deaths by suicide are preventable.

Although the efforts continue year-round, September is national suicide prevention month, and the Depression and Suicide Work Group leadership team and Interfaith Mental Health Committee will host a forum and resource fair 6 p.m. Thursday at Trinity Lutheran Church in Freeland.

A major part of decreasing deaths by suicide is decreasing the stigma around it, dispelling myths and providing resources and support, according to members of a work group, which convened as part of the Island County Community Health Improvement Plan.

“Our goal is to inform and also to act,” said Kathryn Clancy, co-chairwoman of the group.

Island County’s suicide rate is slightly higher than the state’s, according to the state Department of Health, and the rate of 10th graders who reported having seriously contemplated suicide in the 2018 Healthy Youth Survey is also higher than the state average.

Young people, veterans and members of the LGBTQ community are all at higher risk of dying by suicide. In Washington, suicide is the leading cause of death for children 10 to 14 years old, according to the state health department.

“It’s really a public health emergency,” Clancy said.

The work group intends to continue holding events in different settings to enhance public awareness about the issue, including meeting with gun owners and veterans about warning signs and safe gun storage.

Reducing access to lethal means is one of the most impactful actions that can be taken to prevent suicide, co-chairwoman Theresa Sanders said.

If a planned method isn’t available, people will not usually move on to another method, she said.

Suicide accounted for 60 percent of gun deaths in 2017, according to Pew Research Center.

The myth that people with suicidal thoughts are determined to die is one that the group is working to dispel, because not only is it not supported by research and data, it perpetuates the idea that the problem is not preventable. There is also a notion that asking about it or bring it up will put the idea in people’s head.

Asking the “seemingly awkward” question can increase comfort in talking about it and decrease risk of suicide, Sanders said.

Most deaths are preceded by warning signs, such as isolation, increased substance abuse, extreme mood swings and searches for a way to access lethal means. Most people who report suicidal ideation experience stress, hopelessness and pain, said Clancy.

“Paying attention to these things is important,” she said.

The work group will soon start creating its 2020 plan, which will include more targeted outreach, Clancy said. Those who would like to attend meetings and participate can contact Theresa Sanders at t.sanders@co.island.wa.us

Those who feel suicidal, or know someone who is at risk, can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or send a message to the Lifeline Crisis Chat at crisischat.org

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