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Suicide: WA Works on New Plans to Pull People Back from the Brink

PHOTO: It was a full house earlier this year for Kitsap County's first Suicide Prevention Forum, part of an ongoing effort to reduce the county suicide rate. Photo courtesy League of Women Voters of Kitsap County.
PHOTO: It was a full house earlier this year for Kitsap County's first Suicide Prevention Forum, part of an ongoing effort to reduce the county suicide rate. Photo courtesy League of Women Voters of Kitsap County.
August 25, 2014

PORT ORCHARD, Wash. - An epidemic is what the League of Women Voters in Kitsap County says it discovered looking into deaths statewide, and found suicides top the list.

In Kitsap County, more than 80 percent of gun deaths are people taking their own lives. That statistic has prompted a Suicide Prevention Program and the first public forum on the topic in the county, held this spring.

Susanne Hughes represents the League of Women Voters on a committee tasked by the Legislature with creating a statewide Suicide Action Plan. She says getting people talking about suicide is a critical first step.

"We have got to get beyond the stigma of suicide," Hughes says. "It's critical that people who are friends or family members ask the person, 'Are you thinking about committing suicide?' It's a myth to think that if you bring it up, it's going to give the person the idea."

The committee has one year to prepare a draft report of its recommendations for the state. About 1,000 Washingtonians take their own lives every year, a rate higher than the national average.

Much of the suicide-prevention effort is aimed at teens and young adults. Kitsap County Coroner Greg Sandstrom says he hopes the suicide of actor Robin Williams shifts some of the focus onto a different age group.

"By an overwhelming majority, it's middle-aged men who are killing themselves, mostly by gunshot wounds," Sandstrom says. "So, even though it's really important to reach the youth, we need to get the word out that it's not just young people; it's people in their 30s, 40s, 50s."

Washington has just been approved to join a more thorough reporting system for deaths, through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Eighteen states are already using it. Hughes explains it gathers information about victims' mental and physical health, relationships, work and finances, all in an effort to better pinpoint areas of concern.

"It captures homicides but also suicide," says Hughes. "It's an anonymous system; there won't be any names associated with this, but it's far more comprehensive than what we have available right now in Washington state. So, we're very pleased."

The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255). National Suicide Prevention Week starts Sept. 7.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA