James Donaldson notes:
Welcome to the “next chapter” of my life… being a voice and an advocate for mental health awareness and suicide prevention, especially pertaining to our younger generation of students and student-athletes.
Getting men to speak up and reach out for help and assistance is one of my passions. Us men need to not suffer in silence or drown our sorrows in alcohol, hang out at bars and strip joints, or get involved with drug use.
Having gone through a recent bout of depression and suicidal thoughts myself, I realize now, that I can make a huge difference in the lives of so many by sharing my story, and by sharing various resources I come across as I work in this space. http://bit.ly/JamesMentalHealthArticle
Suicide is always a difficult topic to discuss among parents, children, and friends and with the community at large.
When someone takes their own life, especially when it involves a child, there’s a lot of angst and questions, but not much can get to the heart of the problem, nor are there ways to inform the public at large. Facts surrounding the death are kept hidden and discussion is generally taboo except in generalizations.
Now, there is a fairly new mental health coalition that is breaking down those barriers in ways not seen in Klamath County before.
The group is called You Matter to Klamath, with the hashtag #Umatter2Klamath
Led by Klamath Basin Behavioral Health (KBBH) it comprises some 25 to 30 people who represent a wide swath of the Basin from youth to health care professionals and are laser-focused on suicide prevention.
You Matter to Klamath includes mental health counselors, intervention specialists, city and county school district workers, Klamath Tribes members, law enforcement officials (including District Attorney Eve Costello), teen group representatives and the media — just to name a few.
The group is striving to break down the walls that go up when a suicide occurs. It has three points of focus: prevention, intervention and what is called “postvention.”
That’s not to say that everything a family is going through is exposed to the public. They are the first concern for the group and their needs, especially their privacy, comes first.
“But much like the AIDS epidemic, it’s all about removing the stigma so that people talk openly about it,” said Steve Ware, the supervisor of the Mobile Crisis Team.
Going public at forum
Coming in April, there will be a public forum to shed light on suicides in Klamath County, said Patricia Card, Director of Administration for KBBH.
“The forum will include a keynote speaker and possibly survivors of suicide attempts, and surviving family members of suicide victims. Teenagers will be in the forefront of the forum, to be held April 27 at the Mills School auditorium,” Card said.
Suicide rates in Oregon are higher than the national average and are higher in Klamath County than Oregon, said KBBH Director Stan Gilbert. Suicide is the eighth leading cause of death in Oregon and the second leading cause of death for those ages 15 to 34.
May and September is statistically the highest months for suicides, said Jenny Wheeler, the team leader for the KBBH suicide prevention team.
And in January alone, KBBH received some 140 call outs of its new, 24/7 mobile unit to speak with someone who is threatening their own life. By mid-February, there were a similar number of such call outs, said Ware.
“If February there were 100 service contacts at Chiloquin, Bly, Round Lake and various residences, medical offices, and schools in the local area. We had 79 crisis screenings and 56 case management followups,” Ware said.
A few weeks ago, national experts on suicide intervention worked with the group to train counselors to address postvention….how to best communicate with the community about suicide.
Key is to get the facts out to the public, but to do so in a way as to not encourage those who may be contemplating suicide to act and to give the victim’s family time to absorb what has happened without invading their privacy.
How it started
Not surprisingly there have been several groups working diligently to curb suicide prior to the coalition forming.
The Klamath Tribes has been at it for several years; a group called “Just Talk” by Agnes McKeen (see sidebar) started a few years back; and Youth Rising pays close attention to the issue with their younger charges.
But it was the death of a young Mazama High School girl in September 2017 that galvanized the coalition to action. She took her life just after the first day at school.
That previous spring, the Oregon Legislature passed Senate Bill 561. It seeks the state’s counties to develop a plan for communication among various agencies when there is a death of a person 24 years of age or younger due to suicide.
“SB 561provided a very important framework,” said Abbie McClung of KBBH. “The Oregon Health Authority wants us to create a plan to deal with suicide prevention, intervention and postvention across the state.
“Postvention is how a community responds to a death, where you do safe messaging and appropriately honor the memory of that person. But there are best practices to prevent contagion, meaning preventing others who may be thinking about suicide and may follow the same path, method, or want the attention of the reported suicide.”
Talk to your kids openly
On another front, the group encourages parents to talk with their children openly about suicide and the warning signs. And it starts in kindergarten all the way up to senior year in high school. The group papered the town with fliers in English and Spanish about the warning signs and social media contacts to seek help. About 5,000 have shared the posts.
Then there is the 24/7 mobile crisis unit at KBBH. It was recently called out to a scene in Bly where a distraught man confronted police with a knife. Officers had to open fire on him as he lunged toward them, killing him.
There is also training for law enforcement, called the Crisis Intervention Team.
“We’re working with local law enforcement and the Oregon State Police to train them on how to recognized a mentally ill person, or suicidal person, and diffuse the situation. It takes about 40 hours to run through the course, so it’s quite a commitment,” Ware said.
The group meets monthly as a whole, but in between, the various subcommittees are meeting weekly to work on their specific outreach goals.
It is hoped that the forum will be a breakthrough for Klamath Falls to raise the awareness that the attempts and numbers begins to drop dramatically.