A group of local service providers and community members are actively taking steps to combat suicide in the SCV.
Known as the Santa Clarita Valley Suicide Prevention, Postvention and Wellness Committee, the group has spent the past five years working to decrease the number of people who end their lives, provide tools for those with mental illnesses and equip people with the knowledge to help recognize warning signs.
And suicide rates are decreasing in the Santa Clarita Valley, according to year-to-date figures available from the Sheriff’s Department.
So far this year, there have been 19 suicides compared to at least 30 at the same time last year.
However, as Larry Schallert, chair of the committee and assistant director of Student Health and Wellness/ Mental Health at College of the Canyons, is quick to point out, it’s ongoing mission.
Prevention and outreach
Currently, the group’s two main focuses moving forward is means prevention and outreach.
said the overall goal is to create a better climate for the college and the community.
“The Santa Clarita Valley is uniquely able to address this because we are able to work together,” Schallert said.
When looking to focus on means reduction, Schallert said he hopes to keep an open dialogue with gun shop owners, teachers, doctors and faith leaders to ensure they are doing everything they can to prevent those they work with from ending their lives.
This could include displaying a poster with a suicide prevention hotline’s number at a shooting range, locking away medications or guns at home and building fences on bridges to discourage people from jumping off.
“There’s lots of things you can do to prevent suicide by making it less easy,” Schallert said.
In December, the group will also form a subcommittee to plan for their informational video, which aims to spur community members to take action when they see warning signs and encourage anyone who is suicidal to ask for help.
Seeking to understand
The most important part of interacting with a person who is suicidal is making them feel understood and focusing on their intent, according to Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Sergeant Brandon Barclay with the Mental Health Team.
Openly asking the person if they intend to hurt themselves and if they have a plan of when and how to do it is crucial, according to Barclay.
“It’s important to be direct and clear,” he said.
When being upfront, Barclay encourages people to also be respectful, not downplay their pain, convey that they care about the person contemplating suicide and help them find solutions and hope.
“It’s an empathetic, nonjudgmental approach to a person that’s suicidal,” Barclay said.
In this case, sheriff’s deputies can take people into custody if they see them as a danger to themselves. But most importantly, he wants to get to the root of their problem to address their needs.
The role of law enforcement
“First responders play one of the most important and best roles in significantly reducing suicide just by going in with open mind and referring them to resources, counseling and mental health services locations,” Barclay said.
There are twice as many annual suicides as there are homicides, according to Barclay, meaning law enforcement is more likely to have to address it on the job.
To him, it’s not a matter of whether a deputy will encounter someone who is suicidal in their work, but when.
Local law enforcement is also being more heavily trained to prepare for these scenarios.
Within the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station, 40 percent of deputies have taken a 32-hour crisis intervention training so far, according to Sheriff’s Department public information officer Shirley Miller.
“We need to keep doing what we’ve been doing,” Schallert said. “You can’t just not do it anymore.”
For those considering suicide, call the 24-hour prevention lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.