Washington County Seeks to Reduce Suicide Rate from 65 per Year to Zero

FamilyCare Advisory Council hears about mental health efforts

FamilyCare’s advisory council met for the first time outside of Multnomah County at the wellness center of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, where members heard that Oregon has the ninth highest suicide rate in the nation – and learned about efforts by Washington County to reduce those rates.

Suicide is the leading cause of death for Oregonians between the ages of 10 and 24 and for Oregon veterans under the age of 45. The highest rates of suicide in Oregon are among white men over the age of 85. Washington County’s suicide rate is increasing -- from 72 suicides in 2010, to 82 in 2011 to 96 in 2012, with an average of 65 suicides per year from 2003-2010.

To focus on suicide prevention, Washington County has “adopted a vision of zero is possible,” rejecting the “myth that suicide is inevitable,” according to Amy Baker, its suicide prevention coordinator. The county has become a demonstration site for a five-year federal grant to implement its zero-suicide initiative and expand trainings and support groups.

Beyond the county’s effort, NAMI’s wellness center, run primarily by volunteers, stays open year round, and offers support groups without asking for a fee. On Wednesday nights, it turns into a LGT open clubhouse, with comedy classes on Monday evenings for people with mental health needs.

“You don’t have to perform,” said NAMI executive director Laura Yanez. “It’s about having the experience” of facing challenges with humor.

NAMI’s self-sustaining art program supports itself through art sales. “People open up, newcomers tell about themselves,” said Ken Milner, who runs that group, and compared what happens in the art room with a quilting bee, where people with mental health issues and their families are “welcome at the table” to make art and mingle in an atmosphere free of judgment and comparisons.

Meanwhile, another Washington County community organization, Adelante Mujeres, conducts workshops through its ESPERE School of Forgiveness and Reconciliation with a focus on helping “restore relationships with loved ones with compassion and peace,” said coordinator Leocadia Montero. “We explore how we respond to mistreatment by others, and continue moving forward and believe good things can happen.”

Montero said some 400 community members have been through the training, with 86 percent of participants saying they were able to reduce their anger and 100 percent “solving problems with more tranquility.”

Jan can be reached at [email protected].

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