In calm times, it is easy to stop talking about suicide. It can be a big, scary subject often full of personal connections and too many unknowns. To effectively prevent suicide in a rural community like ours, we know we need to keep the conversation going. We can’t stop talking about suicide.
Recently, one of our staff members at Room One, Raleigh Bowden, noted that many of us feel very differently about someone who dies of suicide than someone who dies of cancer. She used the word “terminal depression” to describe someone who chooses suicide after mental illness. This is a good reminder that if we agree, as do health experts, that depression is a disease, we must treat mental illness openly, as a community, and with all of our available resources.
As we’ve been taught to check for breast cancer, change our diet in response to heart disease, or provide CPR in a cardiac emergency, we should have a response plan for depression: we should know the signs, talk about it candidly, take steps to support our community members, and provide intervention in case of a suicide crisis. Mental illness can be scary, and sometimes out of our control, however, like heart disease, there are evidence-based approaches we can use to support our neighbors.
Suicide in the rural West is a critical issue; rates of suicides, particularly for white men, are much higher than those of our urban counterparts. According to the Okanogan County public health department, there were 14 verified suicides in 2011, four suicides in 2012, and nine reported suicides by November 2013 in the county. Of course, statistics on suicide are tricky; many suicide deaths are reported as accidental.
Our small valley has witnessed many suicides and many more attempted suicides fly under the radar. We know we must bravely engage in ongoing conversations about how to best prevent suicide in our community.
There are three steps communities can take to effectively combat suicide:
• Prevention — educating ourselves on mental illness, suicide warning signs, and access to mental health services.
• Intervention — training ourselves to take action during a suicide crisis.
• Postvention — developing a community response to a completed suicide.
Each step is important, and communities have taken different approaches to addressing each piece of the puzzle.
If you are interested in learning more about suicide prevention, contact Room One to learn about future trainings or to learn more about how to be involved in suicide prevention in our community. Or, learn more through online resources such as the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention at www.afsp.org.
If you or someone you know is in suicide crisis, the National Suicide Prevention Helpline can be found at www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org or reached at (800) 273-TALK. Our local mental health 24-hour crisis line through Okanogan Behavioral Healthcare is (866) 826-6191.
Adrianne Moore is on the staff of Room One, the nonprofit social services agency in Twisp.