Mad River Union
HUMBOLDT – An annual report to Humboldt County supervisors on suicide rates and prevention shows that last year’s reduction in suicides isn’t a trend, as this year’s rate is tracking to be as high as ever.
September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month and at its Aug. 28 meeting, the Board of Supervisors was briefed on the county’s suicide rates and prevention efforts.
County Public Health Division Epidemiologist Ron Largusa said Humboldt’s suicide rate is more than twice that of the state’s and the nation’s, which is also the case with other counties in western U.S. states.
Largusa reported that since 2005, there have been 435 suicide deaths in the county. Three-quarters of the deaths were of males although the number of attempts was about equal between males and females.
Half of the deaths were caused by firearms and the age demographic with the most deaths was 50- to 59-year-olds. Suicide among veterans is three times higher than the county’s overall rate.
There was a “sharp drop-off” in suicide deaths in 2017 for unknown reasons, Largusa continued. There were 21 suicides last year but 2018 is projected to tally over 40 suicide deaths and is at 24 so far. That will return the county to a rate that’s higher than state and national levels.
Largusa told supervisors that new efforts to better understand and address suicide include formation of a suicide fatality review team to analyze each death.
Kristen Smith of the Department of Health and Human Services Healthy Communities Division said one out of every five county residents has seriously considered suicide. She said the county is promoting a systematic approach to screening, referral and follow-up.
Medical screenings can include assessment of suicide risk but Smith said that “not everyone’s on the same page when it comes to which tools are used, how they’re used and how the follow-up and referral takes place afterward.”
She added, “This represents a gap in care for a very at-risk population.”
A “systems-wide approach to suicide care” is now in effect and it’s known as Zero Suicide, said Smith.
Another effort is to encourage people to “lock up your lethals,” as guns and medication are often used in suicides.
Rob England, the health education manager of United Indian Health Services, said suicide prevention has become an important part of staff training at his agency.
“What we’re trying to do is change the culture and how we think about suicide prevention at our organization and hopefully throughout our community,” he continued.
Suicide prevention awareness can yield results. England noted that in 2014 and 2015, the tribal community of Weitchpec declared a state of emergency related to suicides but there have been none there in the last two-and-a-half years.
Kris Huschle of the county’s Healthy Communities Division told supervisors that gains can be made with a more focused approach to suicide prevention.
“If, as a community and as a county, we could look at how we can implement Zero Suicide throughout behavioral health and health care in every system that we have, I believe that we would see decline in suicides here in Humboldt County,” she said.
The county’s 24-hour crisis phone hotline number is (707) 445-7715. The toll-free crisis line number is (888) 849-5728.
The meeting’s agenda also included a notice of Supervisor Virginia Bass’ appointment of former Eureka City Councilmember Mike Newman to the county’s Planning Commission.
Newman will replace former Commissioner Kevin McKenny, who resigned from the commission last May after being cited by state and federal agencies for environmental violations on a property he owns in the Eureka area.