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News / Health / Clark County Health

Shine the Light: Suicide Prevention & Awareness Summit strives to save lives

First such event from Southwest Washington chapter of National Association on Mental Health offers resources, discussion

By Mia Ryder-Marks, Columbian staff reporter
Published: September 13, 2023, 7:29pm
5 Photos
Members of Magenta Theater perform a song Tuesday at a NAMI Southwest Washington Suicide Prevention and Awareness Summit at the Clark County YMCA.
Members of Magenta Theater perform a song Tuesday at a NAMI Southwest Washington Suicide Prevention and Awareness Summit at the Clark County YMCA. (Photos by Taylor Balkom/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

A simple conversation can help save a life.

That was the takeaway message on Tuesday as the Southwest Washington chapter of the National Association on Mental Health hosted its first Shine the Light: Suicide Prevention & Awareness Summit.

The summit was held in the midst of National Suicide Prevention and Awareness month and aimed to increase attendees understanding of suicide, its prevalence and access important tools that could save a life.

“In public health, we strive toward a healthy community where people are connected and thriving,” said Adiba Ali, an epidemiologist for Clark County Public Health. “And when you lose a life to suicide, its obviously a big public health concern.

People behind the numbers

The event shined a light on the alarming local statistics that point to a growing epidemic of lives lost to suicide.

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This story includes discussion of suicide. The national suicide and crisis lifeline is available 24/7 by calling or texting 988. There is also an online chat at 988lifeline.org. Services are free and confidential.

“Remember behind these statistics are people and people who loved them,” said Frank King, a mental health comedian who emceed the event.

Over the past 10 years, there have been anywhere between 60 to 100 suicides per year in Clark County. Death by suicide in Clark County peaked in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Clark County ranks higher than the statewide average for the number of suicide deaths for youth ages 0 to 18.

Across the state and in Clark County, the suicide death rate among youth has increased over the last decade, said Ali.

“In the last two years, the rate of youth suicide death rate has been coming back down, but when we look at the last couple (years), our rate is still higher than the statewide average. So it is still a concern,” said Ali.

Clark County residents ages 25 to 44 experience the highest rate of deaths by suicide. Suicide from this age group has increased more than 30 percent in the last decade. Between 2018 and 2022, data captured more than 20 suicides per 100,000 people.

Males made up 80 percent of suicide deaths in Clark County in 2022. Whereas women made up 67 percent of emergency department visits for suicide attempts last year.

Ali explained to the audience who is at high risk of suicide attempts in our community.

Youth who have experienced trauma are 10 times more likely to attempt suicide. LGBTQ+ identifying youth are five times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight and cisgendered peers. Youth who were bullied are nearly four times more likely and female youth have more than two times higher risk than males.

Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander youth have about three times higher risk to attempt suicide than their white youth peers.

The data was pulled from the Healthy Youth Survey, which is a statewide survey capturing the voices of tenth graders.

“As a community there are steps we can take … with the first step being prevention,” said Ali. “The first step toward planning for prevention is to really look at our local data and understand what is happening and who is at risk.”

Start a conversation, save a life

King is a mental health comedian who weaves his own history of suicidal ideation and depression into the message that drives home the importance of having conversations around mental health.

He said that talking to someone when they are showing signs of suicide could save a life. It saved him.

In April 2010, King and his wife lost everything they had worked for in the past 25 years.

King had a $1 million life insurance policy. That’s when King contemplated suicide.

“I knew my wife would be better off financially,” said King. “She would be devastated emotionally, but she would be restored financially. So I was going to end my life so she would get that life insurance.”

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But he knew his life insurance had a two-year suicide clause, meaning if he killed himself within 24 months of setting up the insurance, his wife wouldn’t receive any money.

King called his life insurance agency and casually asked him how long he’d had his insurance.

“He said, ’22 months — and don’t do it,’” recalled King.

King connected with the agent years later and the man told him that when he realized that King was asking for permission to kill himself, he hoped whatever he said would make a difference.

“It doesn’t always matter what comes out of your mouth, it makes a difference when you step out of your comfort zone,” said King.

King said to remember and recognize the signs of depression or suicide ideation.

Some common signs are people who are under or over eating, sleeping too much or too little, withdrawing from close friends and family, arriving late to work, not doing usual enjoyable activities or being unable to concentrate.

Eight out of ten people on average who are suicidal give hints to their plans the weeks leading up, King said.

If someone says that they are feeling suicidal, King told audience members to start a conversation and ask them what they are grateful for in their life that keeps them living.

“You can make a difference, you can save a life, and you can do it by doing something as simple as … starting a conversation,” King said.

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This story was made possible by Community Funded Journalism, a project from The Columbian and the Local Media Foundation. Top donors include the Ed and Dollie Lynch Fund, Patricia, David and Jacob Nierenberg, Connie and Lee Kearney, Steve and Jan Oliva, The Cowlitz Tribal Foundation and the Mason E. Nolan Charitable Fund. The Columbian controls all content. For more information, visit columbian.com/cfj.