With COVID-19 continuing to take a toll on the nation’s collective mental health, Grant County health officials remain steadfast in their systematic approach to ensure people do not fall through the cracks as the country heads into National Suicide Prevention Week.

Suicide rates in the U.S. have increased across the country by 24% , according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Community Counseling Solutions Clinical Director Thad Labhart said the national suicide rate per 100,000 people is 14%, and in Oregon the rate is roughly 19%.

“One person dies by suicide every 10 hours in Oregon,” Labhart said.

Labhart said the leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 24 is suicide. And, he said, more than five times as many people die by suicide in the state than they do by alcohol-related car accidents.

“And in general in Eastern Oregon, it’s a lot higher,” he said. “In general frontier rural counties in the West have even higher rates.”

Labhart said he sourced the data points through the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Coupled with the grim statistics surrounding suicide both nationally and across the state, Community Counseling Solutions Executive Director Kimberly Lindsay told the Eagle Aug. 25 that she is concerned about a recent survey from the CDC that found increasing rates of substance abuse, depressive disorders and suicidal ideation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re seeing rates that are three and four times as high for mental health and substance abuse as we were during the same quarter last year,” she said. “It’s not something that we want to be pushing under the carpet.”

The county, well into its second year of the Zero Suicide initiative, is staying proactive to address the problem.

Zero Suicide is a “system-wide approach to suicide prevention that is based on community engagement, in addition to improved systems within the health care system,” Labhart said.

The initiative, based on a national model, is a priority for the National Alliance for Suicide Prevention and is a goal of the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention.

According to the Zero Suicide website, the framework is based on the realization that suicidal individuals often fall through the cracks in a sometimes fragmented and distracted health care system.

Lindsay said the Zero Suicide leadership team continued to meet at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, but tightened its protocols around discharging people from Lakeview Heights and Juniper Ridge, CCS’s residential acute care facilities.

“We wanted to make sure that folks were receiving the follow-up care that they needed after they had discharged,” Lindsay said.

Another vulnerable population Lindsay wanted to support were frontline workers, first responders and those in law enforcement.

A program, rolled out two months ago, offers four free counseling, wellness and resiliency sessions with no questions asked, Labhart said.

“There’s no paperwork involved, completely confidential,” he said. “There’s no assessment, no diagnosis. We match the person with a condition that’s best suited for them. It might not even be somebody in their given town. It might be somebody in one of our offices that comes to them, or we can set them up with a provider that sees them remotely.”

Labhart said, if the person wants to continue sessions beyond that, they can provide a referral either internally at CCS or externally.

He said people in the program, unsolicited, have shared how well the program worked for them and offered to talk to other people in the community, at the hospital and beyond.

Another vulnerable population CCS is looking to reach out to is the LGBTQ community. Labhart said CCS has submitted an application for a mini-grant to address suicide within that community and they are days away from hearing back on whether received it.

“Suicide rates tend to be about double what they are in the normal adult population,” he said of the LGBTQ community. “Some studies show that around 40% of that population can have a suicide attempt lifetime. I know that necessarily isn’t talked about a lot in the frontier rural west, but actually 20% or so of that population lives in a rural area.”

He said CCS will sit in on listening sessions within the community and then bring in several trainers to talk about the issues that are brought up in those sessions, but then they would also conduct four community-based training for partners and people to learn and help.

Labhart said empathy has to be at the forefront for those who struggle with mental health, substance abuse and especially suicidal ideation.

“When somebody has an acute desire to end their life, there’s a tremendous amount of pain and suffering they are trying to cope with. And that’s what’s coming to their mind,” he said. “Typically unsolicited, empathy has to be at the forefront for the community and the interventionist.”


Steven Mitchell is a reporter for the Blue Mountain Eagle. Contact him at steven@bmeagle.com or 541-575-0710.

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