Thurston County and Olympia proclaimed September as Suicide Prevention Awareness Month during their respective meetings Tuesday, September 12.
Olympia’ City Council cited the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention that in 2020, suicide was the 10th leading cause of death in Washington State and the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 20 and 34.
“From 2017 to 2021, Thurston County had a higher number of hospitalizations for suicide than the state average. So we had 59 per 100,000 residents compared to 50 [state average],” said Gretchen Thaller, Thurston's Public Health and Social Services Division Director for Community Wellness during the County Board of Health (BOH) meeting.
The county’s proclamation cited that in the county, suicide was the 11th leading cause of death for residents in 2021, and 21% of 8th and 22% of 10th graders seriously considered suicide in the past year.
Meanwhile, Olympia’s proclamation aims to initiate discussions on mental health and the consequences of suicide. It seeks to remove the stigma and help connect people with the necessary support services.
Zach Duncan, executive director of the Crisis Clinic in Thurston-Mason Counties, said during the BOH meeting that suicide rates have increased since the 1990s. He underscored the urgent need for greater mental health awareness and suicide prevention efforts within the community.
Duncan added that suicide is a progressive issue that worsens when individuals do not receive the support, treatment, and services they need.
"The lack of access to help can leave people feeling isolated and disconnected from their loved ones and anyone who can empathize with their struggles,” said Duncan. “It is crucial to recognize that suicide affects not just a few but a significant number of individuals in our community."
Executive Director Shelly Willis of the Family Education Support Services (FESS), an organization focused on helping children and families cope with stress, also testified to the city council on the importance of suicide awareness.
“When there were two nine-year-olds who committed suicide within our county within a very short timeline of each other, it was clear that we needed to take action,” said Willis. “The Public Health Department convened a community task force bringing multidisciplinary participants together to address strategies that would help reduce suicide prevention.”
Willis said one of those was implementing free training for those who served the community, stating that FESS held 81 trainings on this evidence-based strategy known as QPR Suicide Prevention [Question, Persuade, Refer], serving over 12,150 individuals in the county.
“Suicide prevention awareness month is more than just a month on a calendar. It's a pressing call to acknowledge the depth of the pain and impact that suicide leaves in its wake not just on individuals but on families and the entire community,” Dr. Lester “Flip” Herndon, Superintendent of the Capital Region Educational Service District 113 (ESD 113) told the BOH.
Herndon showcased ESD’s True North Behavioral Health Resources initiative, which provides comprehensive behavioral health services to school-aged students.
“Our ESD’s True North Behavioral Health services stand as a beacon for many. These services are multifaceted. We identify and support at-risk youth through early intervention and prevention before they reach a breaking point. We are committed to an enhanced school climate ensuring a safe, welcoming space for all,” said Herndon.
"It is imperative that we begin talking about this issue, and it starts with young people. As the Crisis Clinic, we do a lot of education in the communities and our schools around the issue of suicide and mental health," Duncan said.
The Crisis Clinic provides crisis intervention and referral services to individuals facing various challenges, including thoughts of suicide.
Community members in crisis can call, text, or chat the 988 Lifeline from a cell phone, landline, or voice-over-internet device and be connected to a trained counselor at a 988 Lifeline crisis center.
Lifeline is free, confidential, and available 24/7, 365 days a year.