Feb. 15, 2020 — Suicide has become a focus of increased national attention in the last few years as the number of Americans taking their own lives approaches 50,000 annually.
Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., with an American choosing suicide by death about every 12 minutes.
Another unsettling suicide-related fact reported by the advocacy group Suicide Awareness Voices of Education (SAVE) is for every suicide, 25 others have tried and been unsuccessful.
That equates to 1 million attempts at — or death by — suicide any given year in the U.S.
Unfortunately, this troubling trend is not unique to the U.S. According to SAVE, nearly 800,000 people die by suicide worldwide, which is about one self-inflicted death every 40 seconds.
SAVE also reports that while women do take their own lives, nearly 80 percent of successful suicide attempts are made by men, the majority which are through self-inflicted gunshots.
Closer to home, Florence has experienced a number of high-profile suicides in the past year, including the unexpected death of a well-regarded and admired instructor in the Siuslaw School District, which has elevated the public discussion surrounding suicide locally.
There has also been an increased focus in schools and workplaces on identifying those individuals who may be at risk of suicide, along with a number of initiatives that have been undertaken to facilitate that effort.
One of those initiatives is being headed up by Dr. Bethany Howe, who will be presenting a suicide prevention training seminar Tuesday, Feb. 25, at The Beachcomber Pub in Florence’s Historic Old district.
“We are presenting ‘Question, Persuade, Refer’ (QPR) suicide prevention training, which is a two-hour course that teaches people how to recognize people in their lives who may be at risk, and how to talk to those people to best get them help,” Howe said. “Suicide, as a preventable cause of death, has received a lot more attention in the last few years, which is good. What I'm not sure many people know, however, is the group that's at the greatest risk are middle-aged males.”
Howe said there are a lot of reasons for this, including sociological, environmental, financial and cultural.
“They are reasons that seem so large that people often think ‘What can I possibly do?’” Howe said. “Given the stigma that often surrounds even just talking about suicide, most people are missing one of the greatest tools they have for suicide prevention: themselves.”
Howe explained that Lane County has one of the highest suicide rates in the state. In any given year, almost as many people die by suicide locally as in Multnomah County, which includes the City of Portland.
“Put simply, those of us in Lane County are losing our friends and family to suicide,” Howe said. “As a group of volunteers, the Lane County Suicide Prevention Council is trying to prevent that outcome wherever we can.”
Using a grant from Lane County, Howe said the program is hoping to eliminate the stigma of that conversation, “from Oakridge to Florence, Junction City to Cottage Grove by working with as many people as we can.”
The QPR Suicide Prevention Training will touch on different aspects of the suicide issue, including suicide trends in Lane County, warning signs of suicide, intervention strategies and community resources available to assist in this endeavor.
Another attempt at raising the public profile of the suicide problem has been taken by Oregon’s U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, who is currently co-sponsoring bi-partisan legislation called the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, which would establish a nationwide emergency number for suicide prevention and a mental health crisis hotline.
“Suicide is a public health crisis and requires this urgent step of building upon the successful use of a recognized three-digit 9-1-1 number for emergencies,” Wyden said about his motivation for introducing the proposed legislation. “Designating a three-digit 9-8-8 number for people in a mental health crisis or who are thinking about suicide is a crucial piece of the targeted response that’s needed to save lives in Oregon and nationwide.”
In addition to directing the creation of 9-8-8 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, the bill would include the Veterans Crisis Line — 1-800-273-8255, press 1, and www.veteranscrisisline.net — for veteran-specific mental health support and authorize states to collect fees to ensure local call centers can support increased volume.
Howe’s workshop at the Beachcomber is going to offer a series of steps that individuals can take to identify — or even prevent — someone they know from attempting suicide, with a somewhat different target audience in mind.
“I decided to approach these trainings different from trainings we've done in the past,” Howe explained. “I wanted to get out of the schools, hospitals, fire houses, etc. Not that those aren't fantastic places for these types of trainings; they are. But they also tend to attract the same subset of people. We want to reach the people we haven't yet reached.”
To do that, Howe said the program needs to go somewhere different.
“We're discussing something which is serious and, in many ways, uncomfortable — so I wanted to conduct the trainings in places people feel comfortable,” said Howe. “The Beachcomber is that kind of place, and I am tremendously grateful for their willingness to host this training.”
To pre-register for the free Feb. 25 “Question, Persuade, Refer’ suicide prevention training, visit https://bit.ly/37kTXwK.
People can also visit preventionlane.org for more information.