By Julie Muhlstein Herald Columnist
He was so funny. People see him as a such a success.
Carrie McLachlan was saying what everyone was thinking last week.
Robin Williams touched us all, whether we loved his lightning-quick wit, sweetly hilarious turn as “Mrs. Doubtfire,” or heartfelt performances as a teacher in “Dead Poets Society” or counselor in “Good Will Hunting.”
As viewers or fans, we were reminded how much we loved Williams when we lost him Monday to suicide.
In 2012, there were 100 suicides in Snohomish County — a number all the more tragic because it was typical of other recent years.
In 2011, 95 people in our county took their lives. In both 2010 and 2009, there were 107 suicides here. The numbers for those two years, 214 in all, were up considerably from previous years. In 2008, 67 people in Snohomish County lost their lives to suicide. In 2007, the toll was 71, and in 2006 it was 67.
Not counting suicide data from this or last year, that adds up to 614 victims of suicide in Snohomish County. Even one suicide shatters the lives of loved ones. And every person lost was as unique, in his or her own way, as Williams.
“Suicide rates in Washington are higher than the national average,” she said. In Snohomish County, suicide in 2010 was the ninth leading cause of death.
The Snohomish Health District has taken serious notice. In 2013, the Health District identified three major areas in its Community Health Improvement Plan. They are obesity, physical abuse of youth, and suicide.
According to Kristin Kinnamon, Snohomish Health District communications manager, the agency is working toward five goals in its suicide prevention effort:
Screening by primary care providers of all patients for suicide risk factors, and making appropriate referrals.
Implementation of behavioral health curriculum, including suicide prevention and intervention, in all county school districts.
Certification of 1,000 county residents in mental health first aid.
The Health District facilitating a community awareness campaign about suicide.
Ensuring that all patients admitted to hospitals for suicide attempts receive crisis line information and a community resource card upon discharge.
McLachlan said the Health District will be helped by community partners, including school districts and health care providers, as it works toward those goals. Compass Health, a nonprofit providing mental health and chemical dependency services, already offers classes in mental health first aid.
“It’s designed to help the lay person in terms of a mental health crisis, from early warning signs to helpful things to say,” said Stacey Alles, chief operations officer of Compass Health.
A program of the National Council for Behavioral Health, mental health first aid doesn’t train people to provide therapy. Participants learn to listen in a nonjudgmental way and encourage someone to get professional help. “It’s like people get trained in CPR. A first responder could do something,” McLachlan said.
It was revealed by Williams’ wife last week that the actor suffered not only from depression, but had been diagnosed with early stages of Parkinson’s disease.
In May 2013, the Snohomish Health District’s Mark Sarafin created a report titled “Suicide in Older Adults.” The actor’s suicide fits with many of its findings.
Listing causes of depression in older adults, the report included social isolation, stress, physical deterioration and diseases including diabetes, stroke and Parkinson’s. It showed that at every age, far more males than females committed suicide in Snohomish County from 2009 to 2011, and that the two largest age groups for suicide were 45 to 64, and 65 and older.
While growing up, McLachlan said she had family members with mental health struggles. “Almost every family has someone,” she said. “For a lot of people, they just don’t know what to do. I think a caring person can really make a difference.”
She pointed to an online resource from the California Mental Health Services Authority, www.suicideispreventable.org. The website offers common-sense tips for helping, under the headings, “Know the Signs,” “Find the Words” and “Reach Out.”
“The main message is that everyone has a role,” McLachlan said.
First and always, Williams will be remembered as a brilliant performer. Alles hopes his sad death will somehow be lifesaving for others.
“Suicide is a hard, hard subject. This gives an entryway for people to start the conversation,” she said.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Help is available
To reach Care Crisis Response Services, available 24 hours a day through Volunteers of America Western Washington, call 800-584-3578.
To reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, call 800-273-8255 (800-273-TALK)
Care Crisis Chat is an anonymous, secure way of getting help online: www.carecrisischat.org
Learn more about how to help at: www.suicideispreventable.org