Collaboration Focuses on Suicide Prevention in Contra Costa County
County Board of Supervisors to review plan Tuesday
Monday, September 9, 2013
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Patty Owens married a man who held a steady job, enjoyed an active social life, kept in shape, and shared no troubles with the outside world. When he took his own life, she scarcely knew what to think.
But she does now, after years of helping others through the aftermath of suicide in Contra Costa County. If it happened to her, it can happen to anyone. Suicide is more common than most people realize.
“In this community, people really need to know that it happens in every neighborhood, in every group,” said Owens, who volunteers at the Contra Costa Crisis Center. “And I believe about 75% of the suicide cases I hear about could have been avoided, if the people had gotten help when they needed it.”
That's why she and other volunteers are helping to spread the word about Contra Costa’s new Suicide Prevention Strategic Plan, the product of a two-year collaboration between Contra Costa Behavioral Health Services, the Contra Costa Crisis Center, Contra Costa Regional Medical Center & Health Centers, John Muir Health, Kaiser Permanente, and other community groups and public agencies. Suicide prevention and this collaboration is one project being funded through the Mental Health Services Act (MHSA).
The Board of Supervisors will consider adopting the plan Tuesday, during National Suicide Prevention Week. Gerold Loenicker, a mental health program supervisor with Behavioral Health Services, considers suicide a widely overlooked public health problem.
“Suicide rates are highest among middle-aged Caucasian men,” said Loenicker, a co-chair of the Suicide Prevention Committee, which produced the plan. “But it’s also the third-leading cause of death for people aged 15 to 24 in this county.”
Contra Costa’s suicide rate is 10.9 per 100,000 in population, higher than the state average of 10.3 per 100,000. On average, 112 county residents commit suicide each year, more than who die by homicide.
Recommendations in the Strategic Plan include increasing coordination between county systems and community service providers to improve access to help, improving protocols for triage and assessment of at-risk people, and training about warning signs and effective prevention practices for healthcare providers and community “gatekeepers” such as teachers and the clergy.
Rhonda James, executive director of the Contra Costa Crisis Center, said the plan also calls for ongoing study of local suicide data to inform future strategy for reducing suicide in the community.
“Suicide is a difficult subject to discuss for most people, but it is critical that communities develop better tools for helping at-risk people,” said James, who co-chairs the committee. “The more we understand, the more we are able to intervene and save lives.”
To download an electronic copy of the plan, please visit cchealth.org/mentalhealth
People who need support can call the free, 24-hour crisis and suicide prevention line at 800-833-2900.
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- Karl Fischer, 925-313-6832 or 925-586-8811