World Suicide Prevention Day was Sept. 10, with several events marking the occasion throughout the county including a lighting of candles for those who have lost loved ones due to suicide, and a Survivors of Suicide march at Balboa Park. On Sept. 7, the San Diego County Suicide Prevention Council released its 2023 “Report to the Community.” At an early morning press conference, the SDSPC Suicide Prevention Program Manager Linda Puebla said after years of declines, confirmed suicide deaths in the County rose to 360 in 2022, slightly more than recorded in 2021. Despite this overall downward trend, suicide death rates increased seven percent for youth and young adults between 10 and 24, and three percent for adults between 25 to 44. In 2021, older adults 65 and older had the highest suicide rate.
“In acknowledgement of the importance of this issue and the impact it was having in our community, over a decade ago, the County developed the San Diego County Prevention Action Plan, which eventually led to the formation of the San Diego County Suicide Prevention Council,” said Puebla. “In 2018, the Council released an update to the SPAP, which expanded on the efforts, and further establishes the framework and strategies identified by our community as key components community-based suicide prevention. In 2022, the Council continued to invest in suicide prevention, and is leading to enhancements in outreach, training, and an update to our 2018 action plan that will be released next year.”
County Supervisor Chair Nora Vargas supported to a $30 million County investment in mental health services and programs in children in youth, said Puebla.
Vargas said the meaning of the press conference was to “continue this vital conversation.”
“In 2022, our preliminary data shows there have been 360 suicide deaths, which is a 1.1% increase to 2021,” she said. “Although there are pending cases until we get a final number, we must never forget these deaths are real family members, friends, and neighbors…One suicide is too many. We know that suicide can be prevented if we know the signs, find the words to talk openly about suicide, and reach out for resources and support.”
Vargas said the data from the report is important in creating programs and initiatives that are most needed.
“What is not in the data is that it does not cover the aspects of the pain, the suffering, and emotional toll the 360 deaths had on individuals, their friends, colleagues, family members, and our communities as a whole. We remain hopeful that our communities are going to remain vigilant, and we will continue to prevent suicides and its devastating consequences. We are going to do that through education, awareness, and strengthening our resources throughout the county.”
Vargas said the stigma around talking about suicide needs to be changed, and that the stigma is stronger in certain communities, such as people of color.
San Diego County Behavioral Health Services Director Dr. Luke Bergmann said despite the fact people are becoming more comfortable talking about behavioral health and suicide, it is a health issue, and it is not talked about in a way that other health issues.
“I had no idea that my dad was struggling to the extent that he was until he called me in the middle of the night, threatening to throw himself off his 12-story balcony,” he said. “We had never had a conversation about any of his feelings about suicide. We talked about everything. But not that. I think that it is a deep telling about the kind of stigma people suffer around this issue. This is a moment where we have an opportunity to change that. That is at the heart of what the Suicide Prevention Council does.”
Bergmann said this is a call to action to talk about behavioral health, suicide, and to learn how to do it in the best ways, and that is the message that needs to be amplified.
“It does prevent suicide,” he said. “We can save lives simply by talking.”
National Alliance on Mental Illness Technology Specialist Faeth Jackson said she struggled with mental illness as a child, frequently crying, hitting herself. Her parents, not knowing what to do, sent her to doctors who diagnosed her with a depressive disorder at 9-yearsold.
“The next few years I was in and out of therapy. On and off medications,” she said. “But it did not work for me. My depression worsened and I was spiraling. I dealt with trauma daily. I am a survivor of multiple counts of sexual assault, and during this time I developed a self-harm addiction that got pretty dire.”
Jackson said at 15 she shared her thoughts about suicide to her best friend, which ended up with the police at her house threatening her that they would arrest her unless she said she was no longer contemplating suicide.
“Being a young, scared, black girl, I was more terrified by the police rather than losing my life,” she said. “For the rest of my schooling, and at home, I kind of coasted. I held on to hope that things might improve, when I was finally able to find help on my own terms.:
Jackson moved out of her family home at 18, met her partner and moved in with her, beginning her healing journey.
“I found trauma informed, gender affirming therapists, and finally began to heal,” she said. “I also moved to San Diego, I went to school, and met my found family here. I attended support groups and found others like me. Now I have a master’s degree from SDSU in Music Composition, and I work for NAMI, helping others realize that they are not alone in this, and still doing what I love. I produce music as a sidekick.”
Jackson said as a person who struggles with these issues, she understands the importance of sharing hope and resources to help others.
“The Mobile Crisis Response Teams is a resource I wish would have been available during my time,” she said. “It would have been great support to have peer support specialists who utilized their lived experience to engage with people in crisis and make them feel more comfortable. With resources that provide a non-law enforcement approach that is more respectful to community and individual needs. If law enforcement is needed, team members can call for assistance, and PERT can come and help because they are trained in behavioral health crisis. I encourage you to make use of these resources and to reach out to those experiencing behavioral health crisis in your community.”
Jackson said it is important to realize that an individual does not have to be in crisis to start exploring the resources available. And that finding help early, does save lives.
To view the 2022 Suicide Prevention Council Report visit spcssandiego.org.