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September 7, 2010 > Community action plan for suicide prevention

Community action plan for suicide prevention

Submitted By Gwendolyn Mitchell/Laurel Anderson

Death by suicide is a tragedy that can leave family, friends, loved ones, co-workers and neighbors grieving. It is the leading cause of death by fatal injury in Santa Clara County and more people die by suicide than homicide in the county. Following several adolescent suicide deaths in Palo Alto last year, Supervisor Liz Kniss brought the community together in an initiative to develop County-wide suicide prevention strategies.

"The one message we want to give is: suicide is preventable, there is help and hope," said Kniss, Chair of the Board's Health and Hospital Committee and Co-chair of the Santa Clara County Suicide and Prevention Advisory Committee. "Daily, we hear about how to prevent heart disease but we don't hear about how to prevent suicide. Our Suicide Prevention Strategic Plan is the first step in a community call to action."

The Board of Supervisors approved recommendations from the Suicide Prevention Advisory Committee, the group tasked with studying suicide data and creating an action plan. Co-Chaired by Kniss and Vic Ojakian, a member of the Santa Clara County Mental Health Board, the Santa Clara County Suicide Prevention Strategic Plan includes five strategies.

Following a presentation of the Plan, the Board of Supervisors added three immediate actions - establish a single 1-800 Suicide and Crisis phone line in the County; create a part-time Suicide Prevention Coordinator position in the Mental Health Department (funded by Mental Health Services Act resources) and enhance support and education for Foster Parents through the Social Services Agency.

The Committee was comprised of 36 experts, professionals in related fields, law enforcement, addiction experts, school officials, policy makers, suicide attempt survivors and family members who have lost a loved one to suicide, and many others.

"I'm eternally grateful to this group," said Kniss. "They gave of themselves fully and have made a great impact that will continue to reach into the community."

"The Suicide Prevention Advisory Committee came together from different cities, school districts, faith and community organizations but with clear goal of saving lives," said Vic Ojakian. "When we examined the available data, we found almost every city, every community has lost someone to suicide, that everyone is affected."

The Committee met over a six-month period beginning last December, studied available data on suicide deaths for Santa Clara County, state and the nation; brainstormed and identified needs by age, risk populations and potential strategies and developed and organized recommendations into five overarching strategies.

The five strategies include implementing suicide intervention programs and services for targeted high risk populations; a community education and information campaign to increase public awareness of suicide and suicide prevention; developing local communication "best practices" to improve media coverage and public dialogue related to suicide; implementing policy and governance advocacy to promote systems change in suicide awareness and prevention; and, establishing a robust data collection and monitoring system to increase the scope and availability of suicide-related data and to evaluate suicide prevention efforts.

"This comprehensive suicide prevention plan is the launch pad for us to move forward as a community and put in place strategies that will ultimately help prevent suicides in Santa Clara County," said Nancy Pena, Ph.D., Santa Clara County Mental Health Department Director. "The five overarching strategies identify needed services, highlight the importance of reaching out to cities and school districts to adopt their own prevention policies and clearly underscore how critical community education is in the important work that lies ahead."

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