Suicide statistics for Grant County are sobering, if not alarming, but two visiting crisis line professionals emphasized personal communication and focusing on positive things during an Aug. 15 suicide forum.
Four people completed suicides in Grant County over the past seven months when the average has been one per year, Community Counseling Solutions Executive Director Kimberly Lindsay told the Eagle.
“There have been more suicides in Grant County this year than homicides,” she said. “It is not a stretch to state that Grant County has experienced, or is experiencing, a suicide cluster.”
A suicide cluster is defined as multiple suicidal behaviors or suicides falling within an accelerated time frame or within a geographical area. In the case of Grant County, it could be called a point cluster, Lindsay said, something that typically occurs within institutional settings such as hospitals, prisons or schools.
“These are more common in smaller, family-like communities,” she said. “Gilliam county experienced this from 2006 to 2011 when they had one youth suicide per year for five years. They were off the charts.”
The suicide rate in Grant County is double the national average, CCS clinical director Thad Labhart said at the forum.
Finding an explanation for Grant County’s high suicide rate is not simple — Grant County ranks 23rd out of 36 counties for health factors, 15th for health behaviors and 31st for social and economic factors, but it also ranked ninth for clinical care, sixth for health outcomes and length of life, 12th for quality of life and ninth for physical environment.
While the highest suicide rate in the United States is among middle-aged white men, in Oregon suicide is the second leading cause of death among youths aged 10-24. Factors in youth suicides include prior attempts, depression, family discord, substance abuse, relationship problems, discipline or legal problems and access to firearms.
According to the 2017 Oregon Health Teens Survey, which combined results for Grant and Harney counties, 9.4 percent of eighth-graders and 6.6 percent of 11th-graders reported attempting suicide at least once.
Suicide statistics help professionals understand circumstances behind suicide ideation, attempts and successful completions, Lines For Life counselors Dave Dalton and Emily Moser told the forum participants.
Firearms and jumping are the top two means for completing suicide. Pills take time, allowing friends or family members an opportunity to call for help. Ready access to firearms helps explain the high suicide rate in Oregon, a state with high firearm ownership, and also why men have a higher completion rate than women.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now regards suicide an epidemic, Moser said.
Experts have found some patterns in suicide numbers. Suicide attempts tend to peak on Mondays and fall away through the rest of the week, Dalton said, but major national events such as the 9/11 terrorist attack seem to temporarily pause suicidal ideation while family members and friends across the country reconnect.
Discussing the statistics leaves a “pit in my stomach,” Moser said. Both she and Dalton have experienced suicide by family members. So did several members in the audience, which also included three local pastors and numerous mental health professionals wanting to learn more.
Two in the audience said they had attempted suicide, a woman said her son committed suicide, another woman said her father committed suicide when she was 7 and another woman said her husband had committed suicide.
One of the messages Moser and Dalton had was to look to the positive. Even in their darkest hours, people contemplating suicide can be reminded of bright spots in their past, even small ones, Dalton said.
Ninety percent of people who have attempted suicide end up dying later in life of something else entirely, Moser said. Talking to people about their suicidal thoughts will not make the situation worse, Dalton said — a third of the people who call Lines for Life are calling for other people.
The timespan from recognizing warning signs to a suicide attempt can be very short, Dalton said. Signs include loss of a job, spouse or close friends. A person contemplating suicide might talk about unbearable physical or psychological pain or severe anguish. Some have already been diagnosed for depression or have alcohol or drug abuse problems.
A person contemplating suicide might make terminal statements such as “I won’t be around much longer” or “I don’t know if I can deal with this any longer.”
When asked about a person who cries wolf, making terminal statements but not doing anything for a long time, Moser noted that Lines for Life takes every call seriously.
Other signs include people who start giving things away and putting their house in order, or a change in behavior across the board. That could include sleeping more or increased agitation, a person who doesn’t show up at work, even a messy teenager who suddenly cleans his room, Moser said.
“Don’t discount a gut feeling,” she said.
Friends or family members who recognize these signs need to lean in and communicate, but they will need to overcome the stigma associated with suicide. A person might feel shame or failure and be unwilling to talk, while a community that shuns a suicidal person can make the situation worse.
It’s best to focus on positive things, Dalton and Moser said — the strengths of an individual and their surrounding community.
Suicide prevention resources
• Lines for Life at 800-273-8255 or text 273Talk to 839863
• Community Counseling Solutions at 541-575-1466
• David Romprey Oregon Warm Line, 1-800-698-2392
• Military Helpline: 888-457-4838 or text MIL1 to 839863