Saturday March Will Urge Pasadenans to Be the Voice That Stops Suicide

Published : Friday, November 1, 2019 | 5:10 AM

Police prevent a Colorado Street Bridge suicide in this undated vintage photograph.

Marchers will bring into the open the need to talk about mental health issues that can lead to suicide during an Out of the Darkness Walk in Pasadena on Saturday.

As the number of suicides increases, it’s more important than ever to “be the voice to stop suicide,” said American Foundation for Suicide Prevention Board Member Kelly Manning.

“It is an empowering walk and people come away feeling good,” Manning said. “We brought the walk into Pasadena in the San Gabriel Valley Central Park six years ago. We walk along Colorado Boulevard to have people see the gathering and call attention to suicide prevention.”

Suicide has been a topic of serious ever-growing concern. This week more than two dozen residents met in City Council chambers with architects Steve Line and Donald MacDonald of Donald MacDonald Architects to consider various design elements and ideas for the Colorado Street Bridge Suicide Mitigation Project.

Manning is a board member for the Greater LA and Central Coast chapter of the AFSP and she is the walk co-chair.

“Our mission supports advocacy, education outreach in the community and research,” she said. “I’ve been involved in the Pasadena walk since its inception six years ago. The walk is brought into the communities of the San Gabriel Valley to share mental health awareness and suicide prevention.”

She said suicide is on the rise. And, she added there is no “committing” suicide, the group uses the phrase “dying by suicide” because the old terminology is not appropriate.

“Suicide is increasing and we’re seeing an increase in ages 14-24,” she said. “And there’s a large percentage of middle-aged of white males who are dying by suicide.”

The whole purpose is to put the word out in the public that suicide is preventable and it’s something that should be talked about.

“AFSP is a national organization for more than 32 years and it was created by a group of people who couldn’t talk about suicide and mental health issues in the 1970s,” she said. “It should be something you can talk about and it should not be a secret.”

The group is in all 50 states and goes on more than 500 walks in the U.S. The local chapter goes on five walks every year.

What to do for someone who is depressed and how do you know if the person will take it further?

“The biggest thing you can do is ask questions and listen,” she said. “But if someone specifically references ideation then it’s an immediate 911 approach. Someone saying they’re depressed you should talk to them, ask them multiple times how they are. Never assume someone else will ask those questions. Listening is the most important thing. You can ask them to follow up with a suicide prevention hotline call.”

For the Nov. 2 event, there is no fee to register, just come to the park and sign in, Manning said.

The AFSP invests in new research, creates educational programs, advocates for public policy, and supports survivors of suicide loss.

But other groups and organizations are working on the issue also. Pasadena Unified School District doing its own work to combat the growing issue.

“Our newly adopted Mental Health Policy, 5141.51, supported and adopted by the PUSD School Board, June 2017 highlights the need and efforts of staff development, district trauma informed care efforts, and crisis response training,” said Eric Sahakian in a statement.

“The crisis response training is provided to all school site level teams to identify, assess for suicidal ideation. Newly awarded state and federal grants with an emphasis on school climate, mental health provides clinical resources to implement evidence-based programs such as CBITS (Cognitive Behavioral Intervention for Trauma in Schools) and SSET (Support for Students Exposed to Trauma).

“District-wide, staff have been trained in and continue to receive training on Youth Mental Health First Aid which aims to teach school staff about risk factors and warning signs of mental health problems, including suicidal ideation, and helps staff understand how to intervene and provide initial help,” Sahakian said. “They learn how to assess for risk of Suicide or harm and how to intervene and encourage appropriate professional help.”

Among teens, there are many reasons for the increase in number of suicide attempts and technology plays a role, said Dr. Paul Kurkjian, Emergency Room Psychiatrist with Huntington Hospital.

Kurkjian said suicide attempts often come from bullying and baiting on social media and parents denying access to the phone.

“The number one reason why a child would overdose and the most common thing I hear is ‘because my mom took my cell phone away,’” Kurkjian said.

Car accidents and homicide are the two leading causes of death in children and teens and suicide is the No. 3 killer of children and teens, Kurkjian said.

But technology and economic issues play a growing role in the desire to die by suicide, said Sarah Tower, Chief Program Officer for Day One.

“Economic stress and social isolation amidst a lot of technological interaction play roles,” said Sarah Tower of Day One. “Things I know come up are poverty, social isolation and the accessibility of mental health services. The Department of Mental Health does a lot with resources they have. To make resources more accessible and field-based is what they’re working on.”

Angelica Palmeros, division manager for the social and mental health for City of Pasadena Public Health said her department is working on various programs.

In Pasadena suicide is cited as the second-leading cause in premature death affecting younger people, according to officials.  There are no specific numbers to cite.

Palmeros said prior to the gating of the bridge there had been almost one suicide per month.

“We are trying to find a better way to measure the cases by which the people are dying by whether it’s by gun or by other means,” Palmeros said. “We do a lot of education about the potential symptoms. When we talk about youth we talk to counselors about ideation thoughts. We refer to our partners and PUSD has a great program and tries to work with parents.”

“We are trying to do prevention and we need to take the stigma away,” Palmeros said. “If you say you have a mental illness people don’t think of it the right way. With the right care and treatment people can live to their full potential.”

“The walk is good because it gets people to speak,” Palmeros said. “We want people left behind to be able to process and find support. The families experience guilt and shame. The walk provides that light to people. It brings a forum for survivors of attempts and families of those who did die by suicide.”



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