All are invited to suicide awareness event

Official says death of Robin Williams has fueled interest, questions

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian Arts & Features Reporter

Published:

 

o What: Suicide prevention and awareness open house, hosted by National Alliance on Mental Illness Southwest Washington. Open house features NAMI staff and volunteers, education and discussion, door prizes and refreshments.

o When: 1-4 p.m. Friday.

o Where: NAMI office, 8019 N.E. 13th Ave., Hazel Dell.

o Call: 360-695-2823.

o National Alliance on Mental Illness "warm line" during business hours: 360-695-2823.

o Clark County: 360-696-9560; 360-696-1925 (TDD), or 1-800-626-8137.

o Skamania County: 509-427-3850.

o Cowlitz County: 360-425-6064.

o National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255 (TALK).

o Sexual minority youth: 1-866-4-U-TREVOR.

The death of one of the happiest-seeming clowns the world ever knew has focused attention on suicide in recent weeks.

Robin Williams, who went from comedy star for his antic impressions and standup routines to Hollywood megastar for his broader range as a lovably soulful dramatic actor, hanged himself on Aug. 11 at his home in California.

o What: Suicide prevention and awareness open house, hosted by National Alliance on Mental Illness Southwest Washington. Open house features NAMI staff and volunteers, education and discussion, door prizes and refreshments.

o When: 1-4 p.m. Friday.

o Where: NAMI office, 8019 N.E. 13th Ave., Hazel Dell.

o Call: 360-695-2823.

“He was the funniest guy and we all grew up with him,” said Daryn Nelsen, a counselor and group facilitator with the National Alliance on Mental Illness Southwest Washington. But maybe, she added, you could glimpse something dark in his eyes, what seemed like sweet sadness behind his turbo-charged wit.

Wednesday, Sept. 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day and this week is National Suicide Prevention Week, and the professionals and volunteers at NAMI, a grass-roots nonprofit group, are inviting everyone to attend a Friday afternoon open house focused on sharing tools, starting conversations and rising above stigma.

Mental health professionals and other helpers who are seeking new connections, relatives of people who did or did not survive suicide attempts, and people who are survivors themselves are encouraged to show up, Nelsen said.

o National Alliance on Mental Illness “warm line” during business hours: 360-695-2823.

o Clark County: 360-696-9560; 360-696-1925 (TDD), or 1-800-626-8137.

o Skamania County: 509-427-3850.

o Cowlitz County: 360-425-6064.

o National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255 (TALK).

o Sexual minority youth: 1-866-4-U-TREVOR.

Nelsen said the Williams suicide was particularly shocking because the actor was so celebrated and successful. “The strength of his character seemed so strong,” Nelsen said.

But it also underlines a very unfunny statistic, she said: elderly white males have the fastest-growing suicide rate in the nation. At 63, Williams was verging on that older demographic.

Her support groups have been electrified by the news, she said. “The ripple effect has been amazing,” Nelsen said. “They’ve all wanted to talk about it.”

That’s exactly what NAMI wants to do too, she said. “Most of us will be touched by suicide in our lifetime,” she said. And yet there’s such deep stigma about suicide; when someone dies in a car accident or from disease, people lavish the family with “pies and casseroles” and other demonstrations of support, but when the death is by suicide, Nelsen said, “we all run away like ants from the hill.

“Suicide leaves such a wake of emotion for family and friends and the whole community,” she said. “I just think we need to start a dialogue.”

According to a 2012 report by Clark County Public Health, there were 68 suicide deaths here, and the suicide rate was 16.5 per 100,000 people in 2011. In the state overall, there were 992 suicide deaths in 2011 and a rate of 14 per 100,000 people. According to the American Association of Suicidology, Washington is tied with New Hampshire as the 21st leading suicide state. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and the eighth leading cause of death in Washington.

While overall suicide rates in the United States and in Washington rose gradually throughout most of the 2000s and a little faster with the arrival of the Great Recession, local statistics show a zigzagging but ultimately sharper rise in Clark County suicides beginning in 2008.

National statistics for 2011 show that white men had by far the highest rate of suicide, at 23 per 100,000. The rate for white women was 6.2 per 100,000.

The suicide rate also is soaring for sexual minority youth, Nelsen said; they are the second-fastest growing group of suicides in the U.S. Which raises just the sort of complex challenges that Nelsen is eager to take on, right here in relatively conservative and mostly mainline Christian Clark County: What of parents who can’t accept that their child is gay? What of congregations that believe suicide is a sin that leads to eternal damnation?

“In conservative communities we don’t tend to want to talk about suicide,” she said. “How do you talk about the complicated grief? How do you talk about the spiritual aspect?”

Nelsen, who is also a pastor with the gay-friendly Abiding Grace Fellowship near Orchards Park, said she was recently contacted by another local pastor whose congregation has experienced several suicides. He’s aware of the internal conflicts that have been touched off, she said, with people simultaneously feeling their world views painfully upended even while seeking the solace of what they’ve always known and believed.

Here’s something to keep in mind, Nelsen said: people who commit suicide are rarely really seeking death. What they want is for their pain to end, she said. “It’s a final solution to a temporary problem,” she said.

Nelsen is afraid that suicide rates are only going to climb in a world that’s growing ever more technology-based. The more wired we grow, she believes, the less connected we are with other human beings on a truly human level. “How important are our face-to-face connections? Totally important.”

Risk factors and warning signs of suicide

o Most people considering suicide give warnings: Increased alcohol or drug use. Behaving recklessly, acting anxious or agitated, displaying extreme mood swings. Feeling trapped, purposeless, hopeless and withdrawn. And, of course, talking explicitly about having no reason to live or looking for a way to die.

o Underlying all that are basic risk factors like mental and mood disorders and schizophrenia; substance abuse; history of abuse, violence or trauma; major disease or physical pain; job or relationship loss; isolation and lack of social support; and easy access to lethal means, like having a firearm in the home.

o If you notice someone talking about wanting to die, looking for a way to kill themselves, or having no reason to live, immediately call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline, 1-800-273-8255 (TALK), or a mental health professional. Learn more at this website.

Source: Washington State Department of Health