When it comes to suicide prevention, experts say one vital component is making sure people are taking care of their mental health.
SCV resident Gene Dorio knows this, he said, because of his role as a geriatric doctor who frequently makes house calls to homes of the elderly. He said people underestimate how often mental health can affect certain vulnerable groups, like senior citizens and the homeless.
“Elderly patients have a lot of loneliness and isolation,” he said. “And those are factors that affect everyone, making them mentally ill.”
“People don’t realize that mental health is a huge factor in their livelihood, when they feel the pressure of their pay and personal lives, as they grow older,” he added.
The SCV Suicide Prevention, Postvention and Wellness Committee was formed to address these issues, said member Diane Trautman.
Trautman originally got involved through her work on the Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital’s Ethics Committee, and also noticed a trend in suicides and wanting to help prevent them.
“I want to understand what is propelling people to consider and commit suicide and what can be done in the community to help,” she said. “I think everybody has some skin in the game here — we all have to be working toward solutions. We can’t just let mental health care providers deal with it. It’s societal and driven by a lot of factors.”
The committee has made progress on addressing suicides through working with the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station, Bridge to Home, the SCV Senior Center and other institutions, said Larry Schallert, assistant director of Student Health and Wellness/Mental Health at College of the Canyons and chair of the committee.
They are focusing on post-vention in the aftermath of a suicide or attempt, he said.
“We’ve been proactive about making sure we don’t create suicide clusters in the community when there’s a suicide,” he said. “So if there’s a suicide on campus, we make sure to check in on the people who were close to the individual. It has a huge ripple effect on the community, and that’s our priority.”
Dorio said the committee has been working with Oak Tree Gun Club to create a safe environment regarding potential gun violence, especially after a fire captain in the SCV recently died from a self-inflicted gunshot, he said.
“It’s tough because I’m not sure yet whether mental health problems are recognized by the upper echelon within governments or within health care, if they’re recognized as a problem we’re gonna attack,” he said. “I just don’t think people do a lot about it.”
Dorio wants to look for solutions for the homeless population, who often suffer from mental health issues that are overlooked.
“I’m not seeing people looking for major solutions,” he said. “We give them clothing and food, but we have to yank out people who are mentally ill and be able to treat them appropriately. If there’s gonna be any improvement we should have it there, and give them better health care in that respect.”
The committee meets every month, and has brought in speakers such as Mark Goulston, a nationally known UCLA psychiatrist. He spoke in August of listening to people more closely to understand what their issues are, and to make them feel less alone.
“People just want to be listened to,” Goulston said. “They don’t want to feel close to shattering all the time. Sometimes they’ll fixate on something, and that becomes their way of saving themselves.”
The key, Goulston said, was to go in with “targeted empathy.” Making strong eye contact with a person and asking them to talk about their pain could increase their oxytocin levels, he said. This neurotransmitter could regulate social interaction and help the individual feel connection again.
Trautman said Goulston had a good point about empathy.
“I think we all could learn to listen more carefully and to observe people more carefully, and to be willing to reach out and invite people to open up,” she said. “Ask them, where does it hurt? Where is it hurting you? And let them talk. I think a lot of us like to step in and point people in one direction and I’ve found that to be a critical thing, to just be there with someone without judgment, and not jump to conclusions and not try to fix something. We should be willing to say what is in our hearts.”
The SCV Suicide Prevention, Postvention and Wellness Committee plans to have more workshops in the community and there are several in September, which is Suicide Prevention Month.
>On Sept. 12, a Support Our Veterans mental health and wellness discussion is scheduled to be held at COC. A veteran suicide attempt survivor is scheduled to talk with providers of health and wellness services.
>On Sept. 24, a suicide prevention intervention response training session is scheduled with the Santa Clarita City Council. It is open to the public from 6 to 8 p.m. at City Hall.
>On Sept. 26, a Latinx Mental Health Seminar is scheduled at College of the Canyons in conjunction with the Tarzana Treatment Center from 2 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.