Mental health professionals know there are no certainties in their line of work — and if someone doesn’t reach out, they can’t get help.
At College of the Canyons, for example, no student who’s been through the counseling center offered on campus has committed suicide. Still, the college is not immune from the national crisis that represents the No. 2 cause of death nationally in individuals 18-24.
In fact, over the past six years COC has lost eight students to suicide, none of whom ever used the college’s mental health resources.
“There’s no guarantee,” said Larry Schallert, assistant director of College of the Canyons Student Health Center. “But we know that people who do actually make it in, have not taken their lives.”
In December, a well-liked Hart district senior student-athlete killed herself, leaving a community mourning another life cut short. At the beginning of this year, a Saugus family of four was killed in a murder-suicide by Michael Birnkrant, who killed his wife, children and then himself in January, according to homicide investigators with the Sheriff’s Department.
While celebrity suicides raise the profile of the suicide discussion temporarily, the stigma and other barriers to mental health are a big part of the focus for the SCV Committee on Suicide Prevention PostVention and Wellness, which meets monthly at COC and focuses on how it can further develop partnerships and access to increase the availability of mental health resources in the Santa Clarita Valley.
“In response to the most recent losses of well-known celebrities and the new Netflix season of ‘13 (Reasons Why),’ we are encouraged to double our efforts to be vigilant with those with whom we are close both professionally and personally,” Schallert wrote in a recent email to the group, which includes representatives from the city of Santa Clarita, the Sheriff’s Department, Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital and stakeholders in the mental health community, among others.
The support is constant at the college, whether it’s through the handful of free counseling sessions that are available free to all students, Schallert said, or the frequent events the college hosts around raising awareness of the resources, such as its recent Shine a Light event. (The event puts 1,100 paper lanterns in the college’s Honor Grove — one for every college student who killed themselves in the last year — in May, for Mental Health Awareness Month.)
After the suicides of world-famous designer Kate Spade and then, days later, renowned foodie and TV star Anthony Bourdain, the county Public Health Department sought to echo the message that’s been spread locally for several years now:
“Suicide is devastating, and we all need to come together to reduce stigma and ensure that it is easy for anyone to connect to support,” said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, director of the Los Angeles County Public Health Department. “We urge everyone to take time to learn about the warning signs of suicide and how each of us can help someone who may be at risk. Resources are available to help people in need of support.”
Local expert Kristina De Bree, a licensed marriage and family therapist who specializes in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, or EMDR, a specific type of therapy, also discussed the importance of being able to have a conversation around the subject, which in and of itself can be a challenge due to the stigma attached to mental health.
“This of course can often be a triggering and very sensitive topic,” De Bree said. “What is important to understand is that suicidality exists on a continuum… where an individual is on that continuum determines the type of treatment and the level of care that needs to be sought out.”
Essentially, everyone is different, she said, which means that the ability to have a conversation with a mental health professional is vital, but it’s also important to make sure that a person seeking help is getting it from someone trained to help with a specific problem.
One thing the experts agree on: There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to mental health.
“It is imperative to have proper evaluation by a trained professional,” De Bree said, “in order to determine the appropriate and necessary level of care.”
Anyone with concerns about their mental health can also text 741741 and then type in a request for help, and someone will call them back right away, said Larry Schallert, assistant director of COC’s Student Health & Wellness Center, “There’s also the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention on how to survive suicide loss.”
For loss survivors, they mention the following advice, according to its website:
“Find a support group: You don’t have to cope with your loss alone. There are support groups specifically for those who have lost a loved one to suicide.
Do what feels right to you: Don’t feel pressured to talk right away. If you choose to discuss your loss, speaking can give your friends and family the opportunity to support you in an appropriate way.
Write: You may find it helpful to write your feelings or to write a letter to your lost loved one. This can be a safe place for you to express some of the things you were not able to say before the death.
Ask for help: Don’t be afraid to let your friends provide support to you, or to look for resources in your community such as therapists, co-workers, or family members.”
Schallert noted there’s always a ripple effect, and it’s important that the community tries to support so everyone can survive it and avoid “clusters” or someone who might try to imitate that action.
Mental Health and other resources for the Santa Clarita Valley
Mental Health: It’s Part of All Our Lives 1-800- 789-2647
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800- 273-TALK
SCV Youth Project (661) 257.YOUTH (9688)
SRD~Straightening Reins – equine therapy 661-803-1641
ACCESS (DMH Mental Health Hotline) (800)-854- 7771
Asian Pacific Counseling & Treatment Center (818) 267-1100
Child & Family Center, Santa Clarita (Children, Youth and Adults) (661) 259-9439
Child and Family Guidance Center – Northridge (818) 993-9311
College of the Canyons Student Health & Wellness Center (661)-362- 3259
The Center currently helps over 750 children and their families each week. For more information, contact the Center at 661-259-9439 or visit www.childfamilycenter.org.
To learn more about emotional health and how to get help or support a loved one, visit jedfoundation.org/help.