ONTARIO — Nearly two people in Oregon die every day from suicide, according to the Oregon Health Authority. Youth, veterans, first responders, famous and infamous — there are no walks of life that are impervious to the national public health crisis.
The causes are vast, and often unknown, and there are countless organizations and lawmakers working across the nation to find a solution to preventing these types of deaths. The rates of death by suicide in the nation have climbed by more than 30% in the past two decades, according to the American Psychological Association.
Sometimes a cry for help and the appropriate response can prevent a person from ending their own life.
“Attempted suicides are a real thing we deal with almost daily,” said Sheriff Brian Wolfe in a recent interview.
In fact he said the pace is increasing of reports of people who have uttered statements of suicide to a family member or friend who has called 911 out of concern.
Law enforcement personnel throughout the Western Treasure Valley respond to reports of suicidal individuals with increased frequency. Emergency calls pour in from a variety of sources including concerned family members and friends, and sometimes from the people, themselves, who are considering suicide.
Wolfe, a veteran in his field, said times have changed in how law enforcement deals with reports of suicidal subjects. A large push has come in the last decade to train officers on how to respond to people dealing with a mental health crisis. In fact, mental health training is now incorporated at the police academy level, he said.
“Back in the old days, it was more of ‘Ah, they’re just crying out, they’re not serious,” Wolfe said. “ We were not investing our time [in those reports].”
However, now, the stance is “those are the people we need to be investing our time with,” the sheriff said.
It is now known that if someone is “crying out,” there is a reason and it needs to be addressed, he said.
In a handful of suicide notes he has seen over the years, people talked about how nobody took them seriously, so then they “had to prove it” by taking their life.
“We prefer it’s attempted rather than successful,” Wolfe said. “It’s a pretty sad topic, but one that needs to be talked about because it affects families in our community.
“Even families that may not think they have any issues” likely have someone dealing with depression or other issues that need to be dealt with,” Wolfe said. “Sometimes those issues can be hidden pretty well.”
In fact, suicide is becoming such a sweeping problem among youth that the Oregon Legislature took action during its session earlier this year by passing Senate Bill 707. The bill, which goes into effect today, establishes the Youth Suicide Intervention and Prevention Advisory Committee.
The goal is for the committee to advise the Oregon Health Authority on suicide intervention and prevention for ages 10 to 24. This is because in 2016, the state agency reported that suicide was the second-leading cause of death among that age group in the state of Oregon.
When deputies respond to reports of attempted suicide, they take the larger picture into consideration, according to Wolfe.
If the person has made a threat, a peace officer’s mental hold can be placed on the individual so they can be taken into custody to a hospital. Once they are checked out for physical injuries at the medical facility, Wolfe said, Lifeways responds “and works with those folks to try to determine the best options.”
Jail is not the place for individuals who have mental health issues, Wolfe said.
“Not to say our jail is not filled with folks having a crisis, but it’s not the place to take folks with low-level crimes to get off the street,” he said.
In fact, 90% of the people who died by suicide had a diagnosable mental health condition at the time of their death, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Wolfe said there used to be a state hospital where they could take people in a mental health crisis and admit them for three or four days. With those facilities no longer in place, the problem has been passed on to mental health professionals, such as Lifeways, he said.