Reducing losses: Churchill County groups concerned about suicide rates

Churchill Community Coalition, Churchill County School District and other community-based organizations continue to work on efforts to reduce the suicide statistics. During the second half of the 2014-2015 school year, Churchill County Middle School mourned the tragic loss of a student. The district’s employees then sprung into action by providing students and teachers with grief counseling and other needed assistance.

According to the American Association, the U.S.A. Suicide: 2013 Official Final Data report ranked Nevada sixth out of the 51 states (including District of Columbia) with a 19.4 percent suicide rate.

Andrea Zeller of the Churchill Community Coalition said from 2009-2012, 9 percent of deaths in Churchill County were a result of suicide. She said 20 percent involved females and 80 percent males. Those numbers reflect adults from 22-72 years of age.

“Although we have the numbers, we have not been able to find a reason why,” she said. “We thought maybe they were veterans or used drugs, but none of them were. The only thing that made sense to us was that it could have been economically based. Churchill County is at a higher percentage than the average.”

Based on data collected from the American Association of Suicidology, in 2011, 4,822 youth ages 15-24 died by suicide, and it was also the second leading cause of death in that age bracket. The data collected stated girls are more likely to attempt suicide, but boys are 4.34 times more likely to take their own lives.

Zeller said with the rise of youth suicide, she has had meetings with key people in the community to try and determine why the numbers have increased. She said from the meetings a few factors have been flagged: Outside influences, hormones, social media, bullying and a lack of tools provided to individuals.

“At this moments there is a lack of tools for minors,” she said. “They might not know how to find the proper resources. They need support from their family, schools and even the community. We all need to know where to find resources.”

Misty Vaughan Allen, Suicide Prevention coordinator for the State of Nevada, deployed the state’s resources in Fallon in the spring as well to provide additional support, information and training to individuals who were interested in what pushes a person to suicide.

In May, Allen put together two workshops at the school district office by inviting teachers and parents. She and Zeller presented attendees with facts about suicide, how to identify an individual who may be suicidal and what to do to help that.

“For most people, suicide is a communication that they need help,” Allen said. “They don’t want to die but due to pain, loss and other stressors in their lives, they feel very alone and are unable to recognize their own coping skills and options for help.”

Allen informed teachers and parents of the Signs of Suicide program by describing two components: The educational component, which involves a video presentation for the students, and a screening component designed to identify youth who might be at risk for suicidal ideation or other mental health issues. When screened at schools, all youth will be included in the educational component, she said, but only youth who have received active consent from parents will be allowed to participate in the screening.

Zeller, who is trained in SOS, said she plans to meet with Superintendent Dr. Sandra Sheldon in the next week to discuss implementing the SOS program into the schools.

Sheldon said when the district receives notification of any loss of a student, counselors are called to provide assistance. She said before deploying helping hands, the superintendent ensures that all teachers and other personnel are familiar with the same approach to make sure the correct information is given.

Sheldon said even after the spring incident, the district will provide help for students as long as it is needed. She said teachers are also vigilant of students’ behavior during that time.

“This year with a new middle school principal, we’re hoping to start fresh,” she said. “We want to start the year off with a positive school climate. What that means is to develop a positive, safe place for the students when they come to school. We want the students, parents and teachers to feel comfortable when they are on our property … it’s an opportunity to start over.”

Zeller said recently Banner Churchill Community Hospital hired mental health professionals to work in the emergency room to assist at-risk patients who come into the ER.

“The bottom line is parents need to get more involved in their children’s lives,” she said. “We’re losing children to technology. Parents need to monitor their social media pages and phones, even if you trust your children. You can never be too cautious.”

For information about the signs of suicide, prevention and recourses contact Churchill Community Coalition at 775-423-7433 or the Suicide Prevention Lifeline and Crisis Hotline at 775-784-8090 or 1-800-273-8255.

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