By editorial board • 

County to be commended for tackling scourge of suicide

Yamhill County Health and Human Services hired a full-time suicide prevention coordinator last year, and it’s paying off big in at least one respect:

Nearly 500 local residents — including scores of police, fire and public education personnel responsible for manning the front lines — have completed either a full eight-hour mental health first-aid course or at least a one-hour Question, Persuade and Refer mini-course focusing on suicidal ideation warning signs.

In today’s charged political climate, where anti-government sentiment tends to run fever-pitch high, some will no doubt question yet more government spending serving to add yet one more government employee to a tax-supported payroll. Well, we think a compelling case can be made and we’re up for giving it a try.

Thanks in no small part to its deeply rooted and fiercely defended gun culture, the U.S. has one of the highest suicide rates among developed nations. It has been averaging about 46,000 deaths by suicidal means per year in recent years.

That’s an alarming number in its own right. It’s made more so by the fact it represents a roughly 30% increase in the rate of self-inflicted death since the turn of the new century back in 2000.

What’s more, Oregon joins No. 1 Wyoming, No. 2 Alaska, No. 3 Montana and other mostly rural western states in top 10 among U.S. states. Suicide rates are less than half as high in No. 50 New Jersey, No. 49 New York, No. 48 Massachusetts and other mostly urban eastern states ensconced in the bottom 10.

Once again, there is a clear gun culture correlation. That’s brought home by statistics here in Yamhill County, where more than half of all suicides involve firearms, and attempts by gunshot prove fatal 97% of the time.

Self-inflicted death is most prevalent among the young, old and male; the mentally ill and incarcerated; and military veterans, particularly young, male and recently discharged military veterans.

The latter includes then 31-year-old Navy veteran Seth Boquist, son of Republican State Sen. Brian Boquist, an Army Special Forces veteran representing our local district. Seth’s self-inflicted gunshot death led his father to co-sponsor a measure limiting firearm access for identified at-risk subjects, earning fiery condemnation from a gun lobby that had previously looked upon him with great favor.

Here are just a few of the sobering statistics:

n Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among youths in the 10 to 24 age range, and the leading cause among those in the particularly vulnerable 13 to 14 age range. Among boys, guns are involved almost half the time in rural areas and 35% in urban areas, studies show.

Triggers include stress, alienation, depression, bullying, abuse, neglect, exposure to violence, family traumas and substance abuse.

n Older adults only account for 12% of the population, but account for 18% of deaths by suicide. And researchers believe elder suicide may be underreported by as much as 40% because frailty and health challenges frequently mask the real cause.

Triggers include divorce, death of spouse, failing health, social isolation, loss of a job and financial challenges.

n About 6,000 veterans take their lives each year. The rate runs about 2.5 times the national average for women and 1.5 times for men.

During the first two decades of the new century, the suicide rate for veterans in the age 18 to 34 range increased an alarming 95%. Accordingly, suicide stands as the second-leading cause of death among veterans under the age of 45.

n Suicide is the leading cause of death in county jails in both Oregon and Washington, claiming 122 inmates over the last 10 years. And the Yamhill County Jail has contributed to that toll.

The county’s new menu of quick-hitter QPR classes and more in-depth eight-hour sessions is designed to prepare participants to better recognize and respond to signs of suicidal ideation or intent. In addition, prevention coordinator Kelsey Murray has been working with gun owners and gun clubs, as access to firearms is an added risk factor that needs to be taken into account.

Division Manager Bill Michielsen said, “We used to just focus on schools and kids and upstream prevention, but older adults need these services, too.” That’s evident in local figures showing young people accounting for 30% percent of suicide deaths and adults over 60 another 25%, he noted.

It might be worth recalling that every victim — old or young, male or female, veteran or civilian — leaves behind a grief-stricken network of friends and family. If adding a single employee to head local outreach efforts can help stem the tide of suicidal tragedy for local families, it seems like money well spent to us.


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