COOS COUNTY — Nationally, nearly 100 adults die from suicide every day. Of those numbers, 20 are veterans.
To combat the mental health crisis, Coos Health and Wellness has teamed up with the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs to train community members to identify signs of suicide, how to listen and find help.
On Thursday, Sept. 19, at The Mill Casino, two training sessions will be held. The goal is to educate 120 individuals on how to understand and recognize signs of suicide and to connect the public with the resources available to help. These training sessions mark the second and third in the community, the first having been done in June.
These trainings are free, made possible by a grant through the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs.
“This is to move the conversation forward because we’ve found the more we don’t talk about it, the worse the thought of suicide becomes,” said Dr. Eric Gleason, health care integration promotion director with Coos Health and Wellness. “In our area, we have a large number of veteran and youth suicide rates so we need to have these conversations even though they are hard. Asking someone if they are suicidal doesn’t increase their likelihood of committing suicide. The goal here is to reduce the stigma.”
William Wasson, suicide prevention coordinator over the southern Oregon coast for the VA, explained the importance of knowing what the risk of suicide looks like from lack of sleep and increased substance use disorder.
“The step after identifying a person struggling with suicidal thoughts is the most crucial,” Wasson said. “That next step is asking if they are thinking of killing themselves. We often get lost in the nerves of that question, even as a therapist I have struggled asking that.”
Wasson moved to Coos County from Baltimore, Md., and saw that suicide on the coast is a health concern, one that the community needs to “band together” to address.
“We have to validate the experience and find out what’s going on, what is bringing this person to increased risk, and then getting them treatment,” he said. “The VA is not looking to get all veterans enrolled into the system but using a public health approach to help decrease the problem, from our veterans to youth to elderly.”
Right now, the VA is doing a national campaign for #bethere, with the idea that any one person can be there for someone, to listen and change the course of their life.
“We try to make our crisis lines available, but sometimes people just need an ear,” Gleason said.
Since the first community training event in June, Wasson has been pleased with the response from people wanting to be involved.
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“The more awareness we bring, the less stigma you will see,” he said.
Wasson spoke with one woman who identified someone who seemed to be struggling with suicide and had the courage to ask if they had a plan to kill themselves. When the answer was yes, she listened to their story and helped connect them to treatment.
“She told me that she feels like she could ask that question again,” Wasson said. “That’s the impact we’re looking for.”
Though there is a lack of therapists in the area and all over the country, there are still resources available. The VA has internal care for veterans and can also refer veterans outside the system to local providers, which Wasson said is sometimes preferred.
“Also, we are expanding our ability in making connections with mental telehealth therapy where someone can be at their house,” he said. “We like to get observation at times, but if that is how they can access help we will meet them there.”
Gleason added that the county has a 24-hour mobile response unit as well, which can be called out if someone is struggling.
“From a youth perspective, I was a youth when I tried to commit suicide,” Gleason said. “When you’re young, you don’t see there is more to your life other than what’s happening right then and there is a contagion to that. There are so many reasons someone could end up suicidal, but we can equip them with the tools to get help or to intervene.”
If you are struggling, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.
“If we can continue to work together, we can see reduction,” Wasson said.
Coos Health and Wellness' crisis walk-in intake is Monday through Friday from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. It is available to everyone, regardless of insurance status.
The VA crisis support line is 800-273-8255, then press 1. Or text 838255 for the Veterans Crisis Line. Veterans can also have live chat through www.veteranscrisisline.net.