With the recent suicide deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, the Del Norte County Mental Health Branch is encouraging people to reach out to any loved ones who may be struggling with despair, feelings of inadequacy or hopelessness.
Suicide Prevention Awareness month isn’t until September, but Mental Health Clinician Celia Perez said the Mental Health Branch takes advantage of any opportunity to talk about suicide prevention in an effort to dispel the misconceptions surrounding the topic.
“There are misconceptions that you are mentally ill or there’s no help for you or we didn’t help you to prevent suicide or death by suicide,” Perez said. “Suicide is the physical and emotional pain of despair.”
According to prominent psychiatrist Mark Goulston, author of the book “Just Listen,” people who die by suicide may feel hopeless, helpless, powerless, useless, worthless, purposeless, meaningless and pointless. Goulston wraps these feelings up in an overall feeling of “des-pair,” which he states is “feeling unpaired with and without the reasons to live.”
“These eight ‘-lesses’ can collectively result in the pain that can no longer be endured,” he writes, “that when collectively felt cause people to pair with death as a way to make it go away by their going away.”
Goulston further states that as long as treatments and procedures don’t penetrate the shame and “des-pair,” people suffer at the moment they decide to take their lives, “we are just putting lipstick on a pain.”
According to Perez, the two populations most at risk for suicide are youth and people older than 65. Citing the “Suicide Intervention Handbook,” Perez noted the elderly often suffer a loss of resources that leads to isolation and loneliness. They can experience feelings of uselessness and hopelessness compounded by poor health and societal pressures, according to the “Suicide Intervention Handbook.”
Men are more likely to complete suicide, while women are more likely to attempt it, Perez said. She added that this information comes from the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
In Del Norte County, suicide attempts seem to occur in cycles, Perez said. There will be a spike in suicide attempts from July through August, during the holiday season — from November through January — and in April, she said.
Perez noted that during summer kids are out of school. Work issues, including layoffs, may be a factor in the increase in suicide attempts and finances may be tight, she said.
“We know our calls are going to go up,” Perez said. “People are coming through the doors at a higher rate, but they don’t stay around. We get a lot more referrals from doctors; kids from schools. We do see patterns.”
The Mental Health Branch tries to prepare for the increase in calls by having suicide prevention literature on hand, Perez said. Employees try to schedule their vacations for times when referrals and calls for suicide attempts are at a low. The branch also tries to make sure there’s funding in its budget to accommodate the increase in calls and referrals when suicide attempts are higher, she said.
“Sometimes when people end up being homeless, just a hotel voucher for two days gets them past the crisis or the feeling like there are no solutions,” Perez said. “Because, again, when you’re under stress the oxygen’s not going to your brain it’s going to your muscles so you’re kind of not thinking straight. You’re in survival mode.”
Meanwhile for students, Del Norte County Unified School District has begun training its staff and others in the community who work with youth in Mental Health First Aid, focusing on the signs of mental illness and substance abuse.
According to Superintendent Jeff Harris, the California Department of Education allowed two employees from each district in Northern California to go through the training at no cost. They then came back to their individual communities and trained between 60 to 90 people at no cost. The district has held two different training sessions so far, Harris said.
“Even when we get to the point where we can charge, we’re not planning on charging any of our local partners,” he said. “If they want training we would ask them to maybe pay for the costs of materials and supplies, but not time for our people. This could be for health care, mental health, social services. It could be for tribal governments or interested nonprofits.”
District staff being trained in Mental Health First Aid so far include school counselors, psychologists and teachers, Harris said. They would be able to identify and provide “first step service” to students experiencing mental health issues within the classroom or school environment, he said.
According to Perez, for family members and loved ones of people who may be thinking about suicide, there are signs to watch out for. They may be subtle, but mental health providers encourage people to speak up if they see even one.
These signs include having a weapon or other lethal means, if a person is in the act of self harm or suicide, threatening self harm or suicide, seeking methods for self-harm or suicide, talking about death or suicide while intoxicated or high, preoccupied with death, hopelessness, neglecting doctor’s orders, increased substance use, depression and failure to take care of self.
Other signs include talking about death or suicide and acting anxious or agitated, looking for means to self-harm, getting their affairs in order, changes in sleep, saying goodbye, reckless behavior, substance abuse, personality change, neglect of personal appearance and physical pain.
Perez said for anyone concerned that a loved one may try to harm themselves, they should not leave that person alone.
“If you have somewhere to go or don’t want to be part of this disaster or situation, call 911 and have them do an intervention,” she said.
There are also a plethora of support lines for anyone to call, including concerned family members. The National Suicide Prevention Line is 1-800-784-2433 or 1-800-273-8255.
The Trevor Line, at 1-866-488-7386, is for the LGBTQ population, Perez said.
There’s Cop 2 Cop at 1-866-COP-2-COP and Copline at 1-800-267-5463. Perez said Cop 2 Cop and Copline are law enforcement officers reaching out to their peers.
Other organizations include the Institute on Aging Friendship Line for older adults at 1-800-971-0016; the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255; Vets 4 Warriors at 1-855-838-8255; Safe Call Now at 1-206-459-3020; and the Effort, a 24-hour crisis hotline at 800-273-8255.
The Del Norte County Mental Health Branch offers walk-in clinic hours from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday at 455 K St. in Crescent City. Mental Health clinicians can also be reached by phone at (707) 464-7224 or toll free at 1-888-466-4408.
Reach Jessica Cejnar at firstname.lastname@example.org .