Officials open up about suicides in Carson City

Suicides for all age groups by county for three different years.

Suicides for all age groups by county for three different years.

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A high number of suicides in Carson City in 2021 — as highlighted in a new state report — has raised concerns among those on the front lines of mental health in the community, but the answer is not to turn away.

“Human to human, I just want to know what’s going on,” Cherylyn Rahr-Wood said about breaking through small talk and helping someone caught in a suicidal spiral. “If we can keep you out of the hospital, that’s great, but it’s going to be us having this conversation and really agreeing about what’s going on and what resources you need.”

Rahr-Wood is the regional behavioral health coordinator for Nevada Rural Hospital Partners. She focuses on rural communities in western Nevada, and she is one of the authors of the recent report, “Suicide Deaths Affecting Children and Schools in Nevada.” Released earlier this year, the report was coauthored by officials at the Nevada Department of Education and the Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health Office of Suicide Prevention, among other agencies and institutions.

On April 4, Rahr-Wood joined Carson City Sheriff Ken Furlong and members of CCSO’s Mobile Outreach Safety Teams for an interview with the Appeal to discuss what the sheriff called an “unspeakable topic.” The report focuses on suicides affecting youth and school communities in the state, but it opens with some general data. One statistic leapt out at Furlong. In 2021, compared to six other counties and the state as a whole, Carson City had the highest suicide rate in Nevada: 61.2 per 100,000 population.

Carson City Sheriff Ken Furlong on April 4 discussing the challenges of law enforcement trying to help those in the community struggling with suicidal ideation. (Scott Neuffer photo) 

“That number should cause us to pay attention,” Furlong said.

In contrast, the state of Nevada was 21.2 suicides per 100,000 population in 2021. Clark County was 18.2, and Washoe was 23. Elko had the second highest rate in the state with 50 suicides per 100,000.

Smaller populations can make the rates seem higher. Furlong provided CCSO data showing 27 suicides in 2021. Two of those were at state prisons in the city, and one involved someone transported from out of the area.

Twenty-four of the suicides for 2021 involved Carson City residents. The majority of suicides were completed by firearm. Hanging was the second most common method. Of the total, one suicide was in the 18- to 24-year-old range, 14 were in the 25- to 64-year-old range, and 12 suicides were in the senior population, over the age of 65.

The data for 2021 show a 52 percent increase in suicides from 2020. That year, there were 13 total suicides. Despite the spike year over year, there were no juvenile suicides in Carson City in 2021.

Rahr-Wood said this latter fact can be attributed to resources available to youth. These include school resource officers, youth mental health hotlines and coordination with CCSO outreach teams.

“Carson City is ahead of the curve in a lot of ways,” Rahr-Wood said of the low juvenile suicide rate.

But challenges persist in other ways. The people who committed suicide in 2021 had little or no contact with professional outreach teams, according to CCSO. And people determined to take their own lives often withdraw and become isolated, Rahr-Wood said. This can make it difficult for others to recognize signs of distress or to help. Seniors can withdraw even more if they don’t have family close or access to technology.

Compounding the problem is the stigma of talking about suicide. Rahr-Wood pointed to a common misconception that talking about it — especially among youth — can lead someone to do it.

“That’s an old myth that needs to be squashed because we should be able to talk about suicide,” she said.

Furlong pointed to another stigma: that of a police uniform. People who are struggling with suicidal thoughts sometimes think calling for help will lead to jail.

“It’s not a true statement, but the belief is out there,” Furlong said.

He emphasized both officers and dispatchers in Carson City are trained in crisis intervention, a priority in the department.

“I want that stigma of ‘cops are here to arrest you’ broken,” he said. “They are here to help you.”

Perhaps no one knows this more than members of the MOST teams. In Carson, there are two teams, each comprised of a peace officer and a licensed clinical social worker. Talking to the Appeal, team members described how they can receive more than a dozen calls a day, some from dispatch and others from social agencies they work with. They said they are trained to de-escalate situations, keep people in crisis out of jail, and to follow up routinely with people and make sure they are getting connected to the resources they need.

The threat of suicide is a constant in the work of the MOST units. As one team member put it, they are looking at people in crisis that no one else wants to look at.

“It’s really just meeting that person with compassion and letting them tell their story, giving them that time and space to do it,” said Brittney Baumann, a team member and licensed clinical social worker.

CCSO Mobile Outreach Safety Team member Brittney Baumann, a licensed clinical social worker, on April 4 talking about helping people in crisis. (Scott Neuffer photo)

Hope and connectivity are what team members want to foster in struggling individuals. This doesn’t mean empty rhetoric. As Rahr-Wood put it, it takes gumption to get at the heart of a crisis.

“They just want to be heard,” she said. “We all want to be heard.”

MOST member Mike Gibson, a behavioral health peace officer, noted the importance of genuine communication, taking someone’s distress — and their suicidal intent — seriously and respectfully.

“So when you ask that (if a subject is suicidal), and you’re face to face with someone contemplating suicide, and you have that connection, you instantaneously create that bond with that person in most cases, and you can see their de-escalation,” he said. “You can see their relief.”

Sometimes, people can be helped. Sometimes, people struggling need hospitalization.

“The hardest thing for me, personally, is seeing how much people are failing because they don’t have help,” said Baumann. “When we go to suicide calls, and people are contemplating taking their own lives, it’s because of all of these circumstances, and they don’t have the support they need, and people feel helpless and hopeless. It’s really a hard thing to see when you see that in someone’s face.”

Rahr-Wood stressed that anyone can have thoughts of suicide. She later told the Appeal she herself had survived two suicide attempts in her past.

Baumann pointed out there is a difference between thoughts of suicide and having a specific plan to kill oneself. She encouraged people to be open and honest about their struggles.

Furlong added first responders can experience the same mental health challenges as the general population. He and others in the interview said those on the front lines need their own resources as well.

“What these folks do in the community, you cannot put a price tag on it,” he said. “They’re saving lives, one at a time.”

• Nevada Teen Text Line Peer Support — 775-296-8336

• CCSO Mobile Outreach Safety Teams — 775-350-5118, 775-230-6002

• National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline — 988


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