Today, September 10, is World Suicide Prevention Day, a day to raise awareness through actions and education to prevent suicide.
According to the World Health Organization, every year more than 800,000 people die from suicide; this corresponds to about one death every 40 seconds. And for every person who commits suicide, many more attempt to end their lives (some studies indicate a 20:1 ratio of attempts to actual suicides). Sadly, suicide has been in the spotlight recently because comedian Robin Williams took his own life after wrestling with depression.
Like many communities, Mendocino County struggles to care for people who suffer from mental illness—especially those in crisis.
A few days ago, I had an opportunity to visit with Jan McGourty – one of our community’s local heroes: a volunteer who donates time working for the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Jan is currently helping with a program called Family-to-Family. This 12-week class teaches people about mental health treatment options, medication, communication, and problem-solving skills.
Jan says that many stigmas still exist when it comes to mental illness, and family members are often embarrassed to admit they have mental illness in their family. But, Jan says, the reality is that mental illness is a treatable illness, just like any other physical illnesses. Once family members learn they are not alone, they are much more willing to become involved in learning and helping people with mental illness.
Through the Family-to-Family program, participants learn about the cycle of understanding (denial, understanding, and advocacy), which helps improve the daily lives of those with mental illness or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Along with the Family-to-Family education class, NAMI provides a Ukiah-area family support group for the friends and family of people living with mental illness. The support group meets every other Tuesday; learn more by visiting www.namimendocino.org.
A clear understanding about mental illnesses and PTSD can often make the difference in preventing crisis-related events. “Without education, many times the only available option is to lock people up,” Jan said. “But there need to be other solutions.”
Our officers and deputies who respond to people in crisis situations every day depend on these “other solutions.” In July alone, crisis situations resulted in the hospitalization of 36 people from Mendocino County, 14 of whom were homeless. People with mental illness are hospitalized when they are in immediate danger of hurting themselves or others.
Unfortunately, NAMI reports that fewer than one-third of adults and one-half of children diagnosed with mental health disorders receive treatment each year. Many people, Jan said, self-medicate or use dangerous combinations of drugs and alcohol instead of medical treatment because mental health medications are difficult to obtain and often come with side effects.
One of the groups most at-risk for suicide is our returning veterans, home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and suffering from PTSD. Recently the Department of Veterans Affairs said approximately 22 veterans take their life each day.
An organization committed to helping veterans cope with PTSD is Welcome Back Veterans: www.welcomebackveterans.org. The goal is to transform the lives of our returning veterans by providing on-going treatment to them and their families for any PTSD-related issues they may have.
The Department of Veterans Affairs Veterans Crisis Line is another source of help that connects veterans in crisis and their families and friends with help. Veterans can call 1-800-273-8255 or send a text message to 838255, or access the Veterans Crisis Line at http://veteranscrisisline.net.
A suicidal person may not ask for help, but that doesn't mean they don’t want help. If you think a friend or family member is considering suicide, talking about suicidal thoughts and feelings can save a life. You can find crisis assistance by calling the Mental Health Crisis Line at (800) 555-5906 or (707) 472-2304.
As always, our mission at UPD is simple: to make Ukiah as safe as possible. If you have any suggestions or comments about how we can improve, please feel free to call me, complete our online survey, or leave a crime tip on our website: www.ukiahpolice.com.