Nevada County officials work toward community suicide prevention
Special to the Sierra Sun
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The need for community mental health resources, and a number of people reaching out to Sierra Community House for help, has grown this year in eastern Nevada County.
“The amount of people who are reaching out for help with regards to the stress and trauma surrounding COVID-19, wildfires, the economy, and even the political climate, has grown,” said Shannon Decker, suicide prevention coordinator for the Sierra Community House and Tahoe Truckee Suicide Prevention Coalition.
With regards to the suicide rate locally, she said it has not spiked, adding, “It is possible in the future to see that, so there is a great need for prevention right now. Now is a great time to be training anyone and everyone to have some difficult conversations, and get early intervention in the hands of the people who need it most.”
The Tahoe Truckee Suicide Prevention Coalition has planned several trainings and lectures to help get community members to have these difficult conversations.
Accessible through http://www.tahoelifeline.org/training, the coalition currently offers virtual trainings on mental health first aid, designed to help identify the risk factors and warning signs of suicide in order to assist people experiencing mental health or substance use crises. There is the option of a general training, meant for anyone 18 or over, or a youth training recommended specifically for those who regularly have contact with people aged 12 to 18.
Scheduled to begin Monday, the coalition and Sierra Community House will also be hosting Mental Health in the Mountains, a webinar series on the topics of crisis and resilience; the series will feature Dr. Sally Spencer-Thomas, clinical social worker Laurie Strand, and mental health advocate and speaker Dese’Rae L. Stage.
Decker emphasized the importance of community vigilance when it comes to the warning signs someone may be struggling with, in particular with suicidal ideation. “A person who is feeling that often doesn’t want to burden anyone else by disclosing it,” she said.
“I would urge people to put the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number — 1-800-273-8255 — into their phone, or the crisis text line, 741741, and to use that early — it’s not just for people who are having thoughts of suicide,” said Decker. “If you’re concerned about someone, you can call and they can help come up with a plan so that we can intervene earlier than a medical emergency.”
As National Suicide Prevention Week comes to a close, Nevada County health officials are working to promote community awareness of mental health resources through the Let’s Talk Nevada County program, mental health training sessions, and partnership with local businesses.
The Let’s Talk Nevada County website, launched in June, is a collection of resources which includes information on self-care advice, guidance on how to support others, and a list of numerous local and external agencies to contact for help. The page also lists upcoming activities, such as trainings on mental health first aid and knowing the signs of suicidal behavior.
“A key part of this initiative is that people need and access help in different ways, and it’s not always through professional support,” said Nevada County Mental Health Services Act Coordinator Priya Kannall. “So, the goal is to really remind people that there are other strategies to taking care of your mental health, including self-care, creating routines, and building up resilience in our community by building networks and checking in with one another.”
Kannall said Nevada County has not seen a drastic increase in calls to the county crisis line or assessment visits during the COVID-19 pandemic, but county health staff are informed that there has been an increase statewide and are responding accordingly.
“We thought it was important to address it, even from a prevention angle,” said Kannall.
County departments are also extending their outreach to local businesses that are interested in helping promote suicide prevention and awareness, according to Toby Guevin, Health Education Coordinator for Nevada County Public Health.
The county is in the process of acquiring materials such as stickers and other small items promoting Let’s Talk Nevada County, which they will provide to any businesses or organizations who would like to distribute them.
Phebe Bell, director of Nevada County Behavioral Health, said the volume of people in need of urgent mental health assessments at the county’s crisis stabilization unit — located in Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital — decreased at the beginning of the pandemic, likely due to hesitation regarding the risk of COVID-19 in public spaces like a hospital.
More recently, these numbers have gone back to the volume seen before the pandemic, but Bell described these assessments as showing a higher intensity of need. “People are continuing to avoid going to the hospital for a less intensive crisis, so by the time they either come in or call the crisis line, the acuity of their distress is pretty high,” she said.
She emphasized that suicide prevention involves addressing a complex network of effects of mental health crises and suicide.
“When we lose someone in our community to suicide, Behavioral Health tries to make therapists available to any survivors or people touched by that loss and provide support right from the get-go, so that we can stop future suicides from occurring,” said Bell.
“The premise of good suicide prevention or community wellness is building our collective capacity to take care of ourselves and each other,” said Bell, adding that Let’s Talk Nevada County is based on that premise.
“Help is out there, whether it’s your known support system or communitywide systems. Nobody should be afraid to reach out and say they’re having a hard time. It’s incredibly normal to be having a hard time,” said Bell. “People care, and want to connect with and support you.”
Victoria Penate is a staff writer for The Union a sister publication of the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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