Marin County reports drop in suicides

Marin County reports drop in suicides

More than two years after Marin County supervisors approved a suicide prevention plan, the number has fallen slightly.

Mental health officials are reluctant to attribute a cause to the improvement.

“Locally, we have seen a decline in suicide rates over the past five years, and we are focused on our goal of zero suicides in Marin County,” said Todd Schirmer, acting health division director. County Behavioral, to the Board of Supervisors.

Schirmer last week provided supervisors with an annual report on progress in tackling suicide. The effort to create the plan was launched after three Marin high school students committed suicide during the same month in December 2017.

In 2018, Monica Whooley, the mother of one of the students, Gabriel Whooley, made an impassioned plea for supervisors to take action.

The county recorded 34 suicides in 2020, and in 2021, the most recent full year for which data is available, there were 29. However, the number of suicides in the county fell more dramatically before the county. adoption of the county plan, increasing from 46 in 2019.

Previously, the number of suicides in Marin had risen from 47 in 2016 to 37 in 2018, before rising again a year later.

“I have no idea why the overall trend is down,” Schirmer said.

One thing hasn’t changed since the county’s plan was approved: White males between the ages of 40 and 69 remain the most at-risk Marin residents for suicide.

According to the county public health office, men accounted for 77% of suicides in Marin from 2019 to 2021, compared to 74% from 2014 to 2018.

Ninety-two of the 109 people who died by suicide in Marin from 2019 to 2021 were non-Hispanic white residents, and more than 62% of the 109 were white males.

Half of the suicides in Marin from 2010 to 2021 were among people between the ages of 40 and 69. Twenty-one percent were between 50 and 59 years old.

Marin’s suicide data also shows that veterans are particularly at risk. Of the 85 men who committed suicide in Marin from 2019 to 2021, at least 15, or 17.6%, were veterans.

As part of its efforts to combat suicide, the county formed eight “Community Action Teams”. Each specializes in an area such as schools, data, communications, ‘men and boys’ and ‘postvention’.

“We see higher rates of death by suicide in middle-aged and older men,” Schirmer said. “That’s why we have an action team specifically focused on men and boys.”

Schirmer said the goal of the men’s and boys’ team is to raise awareness of the risk to this group; developing structures for people to ask for help; and provide peer support.

William Spence Casey, a social worker with the County Veterans Services office and one of the men’s and boys’ team leaders, said: ‘We want to normalize the idea that no matter who you are, what is the color of your skin. , or what culture you come from, we all face existential challenges and times when circumstances can be very difficult.

“My remedy for this is to break the isolation and build a support system,” Casey said. “If you don’t have one, start creating one, whether it’s with family or friends.”

The men’s and men’s team are planning a hike to Lake Bon Tempe at 10 a.m. Sunday. Registration and additional details are available online at

A community suicide prevention and support guide the county recently released, titled “From Compassion to Action,” says cultural, social and religious beliefs can prevent people at risk of suicide from seeking help. ‘assistance.

“Social and cultural influences can impact beliefs about what it means to be ‘male’, contributing to disproportionate risk among military personnel and veterans, as well as among men and boys across the lifespan. “, says the booklet.

“We know that racism and discrimination are risk factors for suicide, and rising suicide rates among marginalized groups highlight the role that inequality and systemic oppression play in a person’s life. he says.

White residents of Marin accounted for nearly 86% of the county’s suicides from 2019 to 2021, while accounting for about 71% of the county’s population, according to the Office of Public Health.

Black residents accounted for 3.8% of suicides during this period while representing 2.1% of the county’s population. Latino residents made up 8.5% in those three years while making up about 16% of the county’s population. Residents of Asia and the Pacific Islands made up less than 1% despite making up 5.7% of the county.

The “postvention” team takes its name from a word coined by the American psychologist Edwin Shneidman to describe an intervention following a suicide aimed at supporting the bereaved. Shneidman said “the greatest public health issue is not suicide prevention or the management of suicide attempts, but mitigating the effects of stress in survivors whose lives are forever altered.”

Two women from Marin whose sons have committed suicide and who are part of the local Marin Suicide Survivor Outreach Team spoke passionately at the meeting about what being part of the team has meant to they.

“This job saved my life,” said Kate Ruehle, whose son died by suicide on February 8, 2019. “It gave me new purpose and hope.”

Sophia Balestreri said she lost all hope after losing her eldest son, Christopher Page Snowden, to suicide in 2009.

“I couldn’t imagine my life beyond my next breath,” Balestreri said. “What I needed most was to find someone who had gone through the same type of loss. I knew there was a language we shared that no one else understood.

“I am motivated today by helping others on their journey and speaking openly about loss through suicide,” Balestreri said.

The Marin County Suicide Prevention Hotline is 415-499-1100.

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