Taking action to prevent suicide

Thank you for Andrea Brown’s story “Life before and after suicide.” The article acknowledged the challenges and provided resources for family members after a loved one’s suicide.

As a public health physician, I believe it’s also important to share information on preventing suicide by knowing the signs and seeking help for yourself or others. Like Paul Schneider, most people who consider suicide have risk factors such as depression, other mental illness or substance abuse.

Just as people can be at risk of heart disease without ever having a heart attack, suicide is uncommon even among people at risk. But when people are actually thinking about suicidal actions, they often show these warning signs:

Talking about wanting to die or making a plan

Feeling hopeless or having no purpose

Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain

Talking about being a burden to others

Increasing use of alcohol or drugs

Losing interest in things and withdrawing socially

Displaying extreme mood swings

If you or someone you know is experiencing these signs, don’t hesitate to call the Snohomish County Suicide Prevention Lifeline and CRISIS Line at 425.258.4357 or 1.800.584.3578. You can also visit www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

Snohomish County has a higher rate of suicide than the state or the nation. More people die here from suicide than from automobile crashes. Both types of tragedies are largely preventable.

For the past year, Snohomish Health District has worked with community members representing 42 organizations to identify ways we can institutionalize and expand the resources needed to stop suicide in Snohomish County.

We’ve identified concrete, research-proven methods to help people in crisis, from school curriculum, to mental health first aid by citizens, to hospital and medical provider screening tools.

We’ll be launching our suicide prevention plans and seeking help to implement them at a community event on Friday, May 2. We’ll also release plans that day for reducing obesity and youth physical abuse — abused children are four times more likely to attempt suicide. All three areas were prioritized for improvement last year by our Public Health Advisory Council after carefully reviewing health data for Snohomish County.

The next step is action. The Health District and community leaders and agencies must invest in resources and technology to work with doctors and hospitals, develop social marketing campaigns, advocate for expansion of parenting classes, and implement new curriculums for parents and youth.

Our goal is to make differences in suicide, youth physical abuse and obesity that can be measured, and have a lasting effect.

If you’d like to learn more and join one of our community action teams, please visit our website at www.snohd.org/assessment. The Community Health Improvement Plan will be posted starting May 2. Until then, you can read about the process and the Community Health Assessment and Report Card that resulted in our three priorities for prevention.

Dr. Gary Goldbaum is the Health Officer and Director of the Snohomish Health District.

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