The City’s Public Health Department announced that Pasadena’s annual suicide rates have declined in recent years, even as the Colorado Street Bridge seems to be drawing an increasing larger number of the distraught.
A report presented to the City’s Public Safety Committee earlier this year details the facts and figures of how the city has fared in the past ten years and hopes to spark a discussion about suicide prevention efforts as a way to save lives and bring light to mental health awareness.
“There’s been a slight decline in the last few years overall. Prevention is really the issue here.” said City of Pasadena Public Health Director Michael Johnson.
The report submitted by the Public Health Department profiles the City’s suicide statistics from 2006 to 2016 by analyzing data recorded from death certificates.
There have been 177 total suicide deaths in Pasadena since 2006.
“This does bring us in under the targeted national goal. It’s an odd thing because you want to be able to say that no suicides is our goal, but these are some national studies that establish reasonable and reachable goals for communities to try to encourage folks to try to reach that. According to the current data we are actually already meeting and doing better on that overall Healthy People 2020 Goal,” said Johnson.
The Healthy People 2020 Goal is a national goal that is established by the Federal Center For Disease Control and Prevention that tries to encourage organizations to work towards rates of all sorts of different conditions that impact health, according to Johnson.
Pasadena’s five year age adjusted suicide rate is 8.6 per 100,000 population, which is lower that the Healthy People 2020 Goal of 10.2 per 100,000.
Even with numbers on the decline, the City is focused raising awareness for suicide prevention on a larger scale.
“The biggest thing that we can do is really promote mental health awareness for ourselves and in looking at our family and our friends and not ignoring those issues by really trying to do what we can to seek help,” explained Johnson.
According to the report, 25 percent of the suicides were caused by falling and blunt trauma and was the leading cause of death when compared to other categories that included death by hanging, asphyxiation, firearms, drug overdoses, exsanguination and “other”. The average age of suicide for both men and women was determined to be 47 years and males accounted for 81 percent of suicide deaths.
The report indicates that Colorado Street Bridge, which earned its reputation as “Suicide Bridge” during the Great Depression, only accounted for 27 of the 177 total deaths since 2006.
“The broader message on this is that the number of suicides that occurred on the Colorado Street Bridge is really in this ten year review is only fifteen percent of the overall suicides that have occurred in Pasadena. We have a challenge that’s much broader than the Colorado Bridge. When a suicide occurs there there is a lot of attention that’s drawn to it,” said Johnson.
The Pasadena Police Department leads a Crisis Negotiation Team that has 14 members consisting of one Lieutenant, two Sergeants, three Corporals, two Dispatchers, one Park Safety Specialist, and five Officers to respond to individuals in need, according to Lt. Vasken Gourdikian.
The team is a voluntary assignment, says Gourdikian, with no time limit or constraints in terms of number of years, and it is considered an “absolute specialty” by the police department.
Crisis Negotiation Team members undergo an initial 40 hours of Peace Officers Standards & Training for crisis negotiators or the crisis negotiators class. There are also mandatory quarterly meetings for every member of the team, each of whom is required to belong to the California Association of Hostage Negotiators. Officers also attend an annual convention which offers training and guest lecturers, said Gourdikian.
Gourdikian also explained the typical protocol for “jumper” incidents, though he emphasized each case is also very different:
“Whenever CNT is called out to a scene they respond with their full compliment, or as many from their team as possible,” he said. “Typically, the first responding officer tries to or establishes some dialogue with the distraught individual in an effort to talk him or her down. Once the CNT arrives, they attempt to introduce themselves into the scenario via dialogue and ultimately take over the incident. The teams work in pairs as these incidents can take several hours to bring to a successful resolution. There are many moving parts: the primary negotiator and his or her partner, the dispatcher and their team who conduct intel on the individual to find out their identity, and sometimes we have members of the team with family members.”
The City has outfitted the bridge with several signs that aim to deter suicide attempts by providing words that read “There is Hope” and contain crisis hotline numbers for people to call.
“I know that these various lines have demonstrated to have been very effective. These individuals are trained to talk to folks, but it’s very difficult to identify the degree of success on things because if you prevent something you don’t really know what you managed to avoid. I’d like to think that some folks have paid attention to the signs,” explained Johnson who was unable to provide data in regards to the number of thwarted suicide attempts.
Johnson explained that there is no one cause of suicide, but said the Public Health Department is eager to help spread awareness of how to look for signs that indicate an individual’s possible desire to attempt suicide.
“Our goals here are for folks to gain a greater level of awareness about mental health challenges and recognize signs and symptoms of individuals having mental health challenges recognizing the signs of mild symptoms of mental health challenges that may impair individuals’ life functions,” explained Johnson.
“We all have normal courses of mood and levels of depression that are considered within healthy range, but when things start to impair your capacity to go to school, go to work and take care of yourself and your family—these are things that are real medical conditions in which folks should seek medical attention.”
The report is the latest version submitted by the Public Health Department since the previous report in 2012.
“There’s always this sense of ‘are we doing enough?’ and I think the City wants to get an update on where we are,” said Johnson.
National Suicide Hotlines:
1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433), 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255), Crisis Line (1-888-724-7240), 1-800-Don’t-Cut (1-800-399-8288), Didi Hirsch Suicide Prevention Center (877-727-4747)
LAC Department of Mental Health: 1-800-854-7771,
LAC Suicide Prevention Center: 1-877-7CRISIS (1-877-727-4747)