Suicide is a tragic fact of life in Tulare and Kings counties, as in the entire nation:
- In Tulare County, 41 people have committed suicide so far this year, which is as many as all of last year and close to the county’s annual average.
- In Kings County, 10 people have taken their own lives this year as of the end of June. Last year, Kings County had a total of 11 suicides, about the annual average.
- In the United States, one person completes suicide every 13 minutes.
- It has been estimated that more than 5 million people in the United States have been directly affected by a suicide.
- 50 percent of all persons who die by suicide use a firearm, kept in the home allegedly for safety, to kill themselves.
Any incident of suicide is tragic and alarming, just as every life is precious. We want people in Tulare and Kings counties to know that our area has an effective organization for addressing suicide prevention, one of the most innovative in the nation.
The Tulare & Kings Counties Suicide Prevention Task Force asks the public to join us in observing Suicide Prevention Week, Sept. 7-13.
We are asking that people raise their awareness, reach out to those at risk and become involved in the programs offered in by our two-county collaborative.
The SPTF was formed with funding from voter-approved Proposition 63, The Mental Health Services Act of 2008. Since being officially constituted in 2009, the SPTF has:
- Sponsored the Festival of Hope, attended by more than 13,000 people from 2010 to 2014.
- Performed outreach at more than 130 community events in two counties.
- Co-sponsored the Slick Rock Film Festival since 2011.
- Distributed more than 170,000 copies of its publications.
- Provided training to more than 14,000 people.
The SPTF pursues its mission with outreach to schools and community, publication and materials, training, special events and programs, including:
- LOSS (Local Outreach to Survivors of Suicide) Team, which supports the mental health of those who experience loss in order to prevent their becoming victims.
- Training for members of the public, include ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills), which teaches individuals how to recognize risk factors in people they know; and Mental Health First Aid, which teaches about mental illness and reduces stigma.
- Connections with local suicide survivor support groups.
- Grief and Bereavement Support Group and Voucher program, which offers resources to those affected by suicide, including free counseling through the voucher program.
- DRAW (Depression Reduction Achieving Wellness), which is directed at teenagers to reduce a key suicide risk factor – depression.
- Check-In with You: The Older Adult Hopelessness Screening (OAHS) Program, which screens those 55 and older for hopelessness, a major suicide risk and connects them with services.
- Reduction and Elimination of Stigma Through Art-Targeted Education (RESTATE), which has educated more than 1,200 high school students about suicide risk factors through art.
- The Trevor Project, which offers support and hope to young people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or questioning, another risk factor in teenagers for suicide.
One of our greatest needs, and a strategic planning goal for the next year, is to expand our LOSS Team.
LOSS stands for “Local Outreach to Survivors of Suicide.” Survivors are the family and friends left behind who can be deeply affected by a loved one’s suicide.
In fact, research shows that persons who are close to someone who has committed suicide then become a higher suicide risk themselves.
Our LOSS Teams have been functioning for more than two years. A LOSS Team is usually two individuals (a survivor and a mental health professional) who are contacted through the Task Force by the Sheriff-Coroner’s offices in either Kings or Tulare County. That LOSS Team responds immediately to the scene to meet with family members and friends who have just experienced a loss to suicide.
The goal of the LOSS Team is to provide resources to those left affected by suicide. We want people to know there is help available, and where to find it. There are resources for counseling services, books that may help, and a checklist of items to attend to, but mostly there is the ability to lock eyes with someone who is in the same group that you never asked to belong to, but now do. In making that connection, there is a knowledge that they are not alone and that maybe someday, you too can help someone who is newly bereaved. The most effective LOSS team members are the survivors of suicide.
The number of LOSS team members has grown thin, and the demand for this service has become great. We are anxiously seeking others who would can volunteer to do this important work. We offer training to team members on a periodic basis, but we need more LOSS Team members.
If you are interested in joining our LOSS Team – especially if you are a survivor – please join us. You can send an email to [email protected].
Please visit our website, www.sptf.org., to learn more ways you get involved in helping prevent suicide in our community, because every life is too precious to lose.
Darcy Massey, LCSW with Tulare County Health and Human Services Agency. Brenda Johnson-Hill, LMFT, is executive director of Kings View in Kings County. They are co-chairwomen of the Tulare Kings Counties Suicide Prevention Task Force. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255): http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/.