A county in the heart of pressure-packed Silicon Valley has the lowest suicide rate in California
By MERCURY NEWS & EAST BAY TIMES EDITORIAL BOARDS |
PUBLISHED: July 12, 2019 at 5:10 am | UPDATED: July 12, 2019 at 7:25 am
The efforts of a Bay Area county in the heart of pressure-packed Silicon Valley proves that it’s possible to make progress on one of health care’s biggest challenges: reducing the growing suicide rate in California and the United States.
Sadly, the national suicide rate has increased 33 percent since 1999. The rate of 14 suicides per 100,000 people in 2017 is the highest since World War II. The Centers for Disease Control reports that suicide is now the 10th leading cause of death for all Americans and the second leading cause of death for people age 10-34.
California’s annual suicide rate — 10.5 per 100,000 people — is lower than the national rate but also on the rise. The highest rates of suicides in the state, according to the California Department of Public Health, are in rural Lake County (30.4) and Shasta County (24.8). Closer to home, Contra Costa County’s rate (10.5) mirrors the state level. Santa Cruz (16.4) and San Francisco (11.3) counties are higher, while Alameda (8.9) and San Mateo (7.6) are significantly lower.
Santa Clara County has the lowest suicide rate (7.5) of any county in California. And it has dropped for three straight years.
Stand up and take a bow, county workers.
The Santa Clara County Behavioral Services Department was created in 2014 by merging the Mental Health Department and the Department of Alcohol and Drug Services. Toni Tullys was appointed director and given the charge of creating a model integrated public sector health system. Part of that challenge was reducing the county’s suicide rate.
“We wanted to support and sustain what was already in place,” Tullys said. “But I think the two biggest factors in whatever success we’ve had is, first, additional funding, and second, building a multi-pronged plan based on data.”
The county targeted key areas:
- Middle-aged men. The numbers showed that the Santa Clara County population with the highest suicide rate was middle-aged men. So the department created a community awareness campaign targeting that age group, including radio spots on sports stations. Calls to the county suicide crisis hotline jumped by 30 percent, providing people access to the resources they need to help prevent suicides.
- Schools. The county conducted a schools need assessment to gain insights into how teachers, staff, students and their families could be better served. The ensuing partnership with seven county school districts led to the creation of a set of suicide prevention and crisis response policies. The county then planned, organized and promoted training sessions for teachers and school staff to hear experts’ advice on suicide prevention.
- Guns. Keeping guns out of the hands of those at risk for suicide is crucial. The county supported safe-storage-of-guns ordinances that were enacted in Morgan Hill, San Jose, Saratoga and Sunnyvale. It also reached out to gun shops and provided information on how to detect warning signs of people at risk of harming themselves.
- Crisis response. Creating a mobile crisis-response team available to law enforcement and the public to call (800-704-0900) in the event of a crisis.
Tullys realizes the county can still do more — a lot more — to prevent suicide, including early intervention programs for children displaying signs of mental illness, added programs for those with substance abuse problems and substantially increasing the number of hospital beds for people with serious mental health issues.
Suicide is responsible for about 45,000 deaths every year, costing society an estimated $70 billion annually, in addition to the devastating impacts on families. Every dollar spent in reducing suicide is a dollar well spent.
The number for the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800-273-TALK (8244). The lifeline is manned 24 hours a day, seven days a week.