Clackamas County calls for action against increasing suicide rate
Every five days in Clackamas County on average, there is one suicide. Clackamas County has a 16 percent higher rate of suicide than the national rate, so the county has been working to identify who is at risk and how to get them help.
Spurred on by how suicides affect almost everyone locally, 52 participants filled the Oregon City Library's Community Room on Oct. 16 as Clackamas County convened the first suicide prevention coalition. Every hand was raised when the question was asked about who in the room had been impacted by suicide.
People who have survived suicide attempts and family members who have lost a loved one were in the audience, as well as first responders like police and firefighters who arrive after reported suicide attempts.
Mary Rumbaugh, director of Clackamas County's Behavioral Health Division, is making a special effort with her staff to spread awareness and inform the public about suicides.
"We're really ready to say that suicide prevention shouldn't just be the responsibility of mental health," Rumbaugh said. "These first responders are hugely impacted every day by what they experience."
More participation and involvement by the public is still needed to prevent suicides. Rumbaugh said she heard some common themes at the first coalition meeting around education and training.
"We're talking about suicide prevention day in, day out," Rumbaugh said. "We need to make sure that we're creating a safe space for people to talk about this."
One of the common themes at the Oct. 16 meeting was to create a safety net for people who "might need to call someone at 2 a.m. when they're feeling like it's the end," Rumbaugh said. She said the key was to create "mental health first-aid training" so people feel comfortable asking "Are you OK?" When someone responds that they're not sure, she suggests responding, "I'm here for you no matter what."
Clackamas County runs a 24-hour crisis line at 503-655-8585 and a "senior loneliness line" at 503-200-1633 so people over 55 can talk with someone else their age.
Spurred on by a recent increase in the rate of suicide deaths in the city, Lake Oswego Police Chief Dale Jorgensen is having all his officers attend two-day Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Trainings (ASIST).
"We have to do this," Jorgensen reportedly told Rumbaugh.
In addition to committing extra time for county staff, Oregon Health Plan administrative funds have contributed $9,500 toward forming a coalition for suicide prevention in Clackamas County.
"It's never easy to hear that someone you love is at risk for suicide, but it helps if you have the tools," Rumbaugh said.
There have been more youth suicides (ages 10-24) in Clackamas County during the first half of this year than there were in the previous two full years.
Firearms continue to be the most frequently used mechanism in suicides. In 2017, firearms were used in 25 deaths (39 percent), in 2016 they were used in 31 deaths (52.5 percent), and in 2015 firearms were used in 39 deaths (57.4 percent).