The recent death of a 30-year-old man from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head brings the county to 40 suicides in 2015, its highest mark in five years, surpassing its 2012 total of 37, according to numbers from the Humboldt County Coroner's Office. It also places Humboldt County at nearly three times the California average of 10.2 suicides per 100,000 residents, as reported by the California Department of Public Health.
Suicide is just one of the nine health status indicators for which Humboldt sits near the bottom of the chart. Out of 58 counties, we rank 51st for fatal motor vehicle crashes
, 52nd for cancer deaths, 55th for both chronic liver disease and accidental injuries, and 57th in drug-induced deaths
Chief Deputy Coroner Lt. Ernie Stewart blames alcohol and other drugs for the above average suicide rate in Humboldt County.
"True mental health issues on their own are rarely debilitating," he says. "We have a problem in this county. In my opinion we need to set up a more readily available treatment facilities for people with mental health and substance abuse issues."
Stewart says the new addition to the county jail
, which will provide re-entry services to inmates
that include mental health counseling, should be an "immense help."
A report from the county Department of Health and Human Services, which uses amalgamated data from 2010 to 2014, shows that the rate of suicides has increased and that the suicide rate "per 100,000 persons remains approximately two to 2.5 times that of California."
The median age for suicides between 2010 and 2014 was 51, with white men at a substantially higher risk for taking their own lives. The majority of people used firearms.
Susan Buckley, public health director at the Department of Health and Human Services, says the trend is "very concerning."
The county has used funding from the Mental Health Services Act to bring in more training in recent years, but Buckley says a more thorough look at the root causes, a suicide death review, is needed. This will give the county an idea of what populations are at the highest risk, and what the risk factors might be. This review is dependent on multi-agency cooperation, however, including the participation of county mental health. Buckley says that implementation of the review is "resource-dependent."
"I think the readiness is there to do that," she says. "I can’t say that we can put the leadership resources into it for at least another three to four months."
Some locals have participated in an "Out of the Darkness" walk for awareness and a training as part of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The foundation offers training, education and support. Heather Freitas, a local field advocate, says that, for now, the group is operating out of the San Francisco Bay Area chapter, but hopes to have a local chapter active within the next two years.
"The organization really thrives on grassroots efforts," says Freitas, adding that there will be a community presentation on Jan. 7 from national leaders (details are still in the works). "I've met people who expressed their need for resources, and their need to grieve."
For more information about the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, click here
. For immediate, local help, the 24/7 Mental Health Crisis Line is 445-7715.