A report from the county’s Suicide Prevention Task Force shows an uptick of suicide risks amongst an unexpected group
VISALIA – Suicide Prevention Awareness month is here, and a report from Tulare County’s Suicide Prevention Task Force shows that an older than expected population is at risk when it comes to suicide.
At the Tulare County Board of Supervisors meeting on Aug. 30, the Suicide Prevention Task Force (SPTF) reported a total of 23 suicides in Tulare County as of Aug. 16. It was reported by the task force that amongst the 23 deaths, 19 of of the suicides were committed by men. In particular, the task force noticed that the highest amount of suicides, 10 of the reported 23, were committed by men 65 years or older, which is an unusual uptick when compared to data from past years.
In 2021, of the 35 total suicides, five were committed by men 65 years or older, and in 2020, the number of elderly suicides totaled to seven.
“We are concerned with that number for this year, for older adults, and it’s definitely something that we are looking at and trying to see how we can reach out to that population,” Natalie Bolin, SPTF deputy director of clinical services, said.
It is still unclear what is contributing to this trend, but it is speculated by SPTF members that terminal illnesses could be a leading cause amongst this community. At the meeting, Darcy Massey, SPTF family advocate manager, said data they received from the coroner’s office showed a lot of older adults who committed these suicides were either suffering from a terminal illness or appeared to have a partner who recently died of an illness.
“Just knowing that our experts, the coroner, have shared that it’s an issue…[leads us to] believe that’s contributing to the number,” Casie Ennis, co-chair of SPTF and division manager of clinical health services for Tulare County behavioral health, said.
The remaining suicides from this year so far were conducted by four people who were ages 25-34, three people who were ages 19-24, three people ages 55-64, two people ages 45-54 and one person aged 35-44.
With support from Striving for Zero, which is the state’s strategic plan for suicide prevention from the Mental Health Services Oversight and Accountability Commission, the task force is conducting and completing their three-year suicide prevention plan. Initiatives for their plan will have them strengthen and enrich their current programs and intervention services; promote effective practices both clinical and professional; ensure that the community is well-informed of their offered services and how to best access them; develop and implement more suicide prevention programs; and improve and expand their data collection systems.
“We want to improve our data collection systems so we can get a better idea of the population that we really need to focus on,” Massey said.
The task force conducted a survey, with local and statewide data, for task force committee members, local community members and task force partners to partake in. The survey identified five areas that were considered priority, and through the results, SPTF identified the goals they need to focus on within the next three years.
The most important priority according to those surveyed should be the need for community members to identify the warning signs for someone who is contemplating suicide. It also calls for community members to try and intervene along with someone close to the individual at risk.
The second most important priority should be to identify individuals at risk of suicide and refer them to proper care in a setting that is as low-restrictive as possible. The third most important priority calls for the task force to support districts and schools by implementing suicide prevention policies and programs. And the fourth priority should be to reduce the stigma among residents that discourages reaching out for help, and the fifth area, with 42%, is to support individuals after a suicide attempt.
To increase suicide prevention, SPTF is implementing a variety of different trainings throughout the community. They are reaching out to schools, clinics and different community partners. The task force is also promoting suicide awareness amongst the community through media outlets, like Facebook.
The task force is also working to prevent suicides by taking notice of those who are at risk of suicide and intervening early on. They plan to do more evaluating, address risk assessments and coordinate safety planning with necessary community members. They then provide those at risk individuals with connections to services in the community that can best help them.
Additionally, SPTF is increasing their response to L.O.S.S. survivors by expanding the group. L.O.S.S., or Local Outreach for Suicide Survivors, is a group that provides immediate support to those impacted by losing a loved ones to suicide.