Suicide prevention: Know the signs, find the words, reach out

By Meloney Roy 08/28/2014


Chief Deputy Director, Ventura County Health Care Agency.


The reported suicide of actor Robin Williams has again tragically put the spotlight on one of the most serious public health issues facing our nation. According to the CDC, suicide is the 10th-leading cause of death in the United States today. Every 15 minutes, another person dies from suicide in this country. National and local data show that the number of suicides has been increasing over the past decade. In Ventura County, 94 people, on average, have committed suicide annually from 2011 to 2013.


Those at highest risk of suicide are single Caucasian males over the age of 65. Among Hispanic Americans ages 15-24, suicide is the third-leading cause of death. Attempted suicides are twice as high among LGBT adolescents when compared to the rate in their straight peers. Chronic medical illness increases the risk of suicide, and national studies show that more than one-third of all people who suicide had consumed alcohol shortly before dying.


The great tragedy in all of this is that suicide is preventable. People who are experiencing suicidal thoughts and feelings can be helped. We all can play a role in suicide prevention, by becoming aware of the warning signs of suicide and by knowing how and when to intervene. If you want to make a difference, learn more at www.suicideispreventable.org.


Tragically, again, many people in emotional pain do not seek help due to the stigma associated with seeking mental health treatment. One of Behavioral Health’s stigma-reduction efforts has been to train over 1,500 Ventura County residents in mental health first aid. This program helps people better understand the early signs of mental illness, be familiar with some of the treatments that are available and effective, recognize when someone needs professional help and know how to refer to local resources, including during a crisis. Courses are ongoing, including in English and Spanish.  


We have also formed a Ventura County Suicide Prevention Countywide Coordinating Council (CCC), which is a collaborative among public and private agencies creating a unified countywide approach to suicide prevention. Representatives include: the Ventura County Health Care Agency’s Behavioral Health and Public Health Departments, Ventura County Sheriff’s Department Crisis Intervention Team (CIT), Ventura County Office of Education, the Children’s Intensive Response Team (Casa Pacifica), 211 call line, the Ventura County chapter of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), United Parents, Camarillo Hospice and Santa Paula Hospice, among others. We welcome the participation of other interested organizations.  


We also do significant outreach and engagement with populations less likely to access traditional, clinic-based mental health services. We have strong partnerships with St. Paul’s Baptist Church in Oxnard and with Guadalupe Parish in Santa Paula, where people are provided support in an environment comfortable to them and referral as necessary to the county programs. We have funded mental health clinicians working within primary-care clinics at both Clinicas del Camino Real and at the Health Care Agency Ambulatory Care Clinics — this, in recognition of the fact that primary care is where the vast majority of people with mental health concerns will access care. We also work closely with the Mixteco Community Organizing Project where we fund support groups, and we have a stigma-reduction campaign about to launch, which is strategically aimed at reaching our Latino population. We want to reach out to people before their mental health issues negatively impact their lives, the lives of their families, the community — and certainly before they rise to the level of a crisis.  For more information about Mental Health First Aid, and all of Ventura County Behavioral Health’s Suicide Prevention Efforts, contact KerryAnn Schuette at 805-981-9213.


The Ventura County Behavioral Health Crisis Team is available 24/7 to provide assistance to adults experiencing a mental health emergency and may be reached at 1-866-998-2243. For youth through age 21, our Children’s Intensive Response Team may be reached at 1-866-431-2478.


Additionally, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255) has trained crisis counselors available seven days per week. For Spanish language counselors, call 1-888-628-9454.


In the words of the statewide suicide prevention campaign, “Know the signs, find the words, reach out.” 

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