Community group shares numbers on suicide, prevention outreach 

The “Shine a Light” event in 2018 at the College of Canyons was held to spread awareness on suicide and dispel the stigmas associated with mental health. The school placed more than 1,100 lanterns in the Honor Grove to represent the 1,100 college students that lose their lives to suicide every year. SIGNAL FILE PHOTO
The “Shine a Light” event in 2018 at the College of Canyons was held to spread awareness on suicide and dispel the stigmas associated with mental health. The school placed more than 1,100 lanterns in the Honor Grove to represent the 1,100 college students that lose their lives to suicide every year. SIGNAL FILE PHOTO
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The latest figures shared with the Santa Clarita Valley Suicide Prevention, Postvention and Wellness Committee indicated there were 20 suicides last year compared to 33 in 2022, officials said. 

The local group, which started at College of the Canyons through a mental health grant about 10 years ago, works on outreach and events to support raising awareness.  

The Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station, which responds to any nonnatural death at a home, business or in public, shared the data at the group’s recent meeting. Capt. Justin Diez regularly attends the meetings and said it’s part of the station’s effort to support the local group. 

Of the 20 suicides responded to in the SCV last year (which includes one death in the California Highway Patrol’s area that occurred on a freeway overpass), a gun was the most common method used, in 13 of the deaths. Sixteen of suicides were committed by male individuals and four by women. The ages ranged consistently, Diez said, with two to four victims in each 10-year age range up to age 79, including one juvenile. Fifteen of those who died were listed as white, according to the data.  

The committee, started by a Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration grant almost 10 years ago, has held outreach events, created a website and created signs throughout the community to raise awareness. 

The founder, Larry Schallert, recently retired as assistant director of the Student Health and Wellness Center at College of the Canyons, but the former California Social Worker of the Year Award recipient is staying on to remain involved as Supervisor Kathryn Barger’s appointee to the county’s Commission on Mental Health. 

Ultimately, the goal is to pass leadership of the group to Stephanie Cotcher, clinical coordinator with the William S. Hart Union High School District, who’s already assumed some of the organizational work for the virtual monthly meetings. 

Schallert looks forward to the committee continuing because it provides a lot of opportunities for positive sharing among a community working on serious mental health issues, he said.  

“The committee is very important, I think, because it brings together a wide variety of stakeholders in the pursuit of, first and foremost, preventing suicide in Santa Carita Valley, but also identifying gaps and services and opportunities to take advantage of,” Schallert said Thursday. “The committee addresses important issues, like postvention, which is responding to a suicide or a tragedy so that contagion doesn’t happen and trauma is addressed. It also allows … the opportunity for providers of the services to get to know one another so that we can make referrals easily and learn each other’s systems.” 

One of the biggest successes has been a website, BeTheDifferenceSCV.org, put together through the meetings to create a network of the services and providers that Schallert mentioned. 

Diez, who gives out cards the committee has made with the website and other resources on it at numerous community events, praised the group’s work and hoped sharing data with the committee from the department would provide information to help in the community discussion of resources. 

The committee can now point to trainings, outreach events, community partners like the Oak Tree Gun Club, which has posted suicide-prevention information in response to community concerns, and most recently signs posted at train stations with information about mental health resources in order to discourage suicides. 

Zee Dankworth, a committee member and volunteer who facilitates support groups locally through the National Alliance on Mental Illness, said the network of resources that’s being built through the meetings is a great resource, and enjoyed discussion on how the community can further resources like housing for those are struggling with mental health, including veterans and those dealing with substance abuse issues. 

Going forward, Schallert said the group needs to keep looking for “hot spots” where it can fill service gaps, which was the original goal of the group’s grant with the student population, and now a community-wide effort.  

Anyone looking for information about free and low-cost mental health services can visit bethedifferencescv.org. 

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