By Lauren M. Whaley, CHCF Center for Health Reporting
Every day in California, nine people die by suicide. Both in California and nationwide, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death. According to a recent study, in 2009, more than a half-million adults in California seriously thought about killing themselves. Last fall, the California Mental Health Services Authority launched a statewide campaign called Know the Signs as part of a larger suicide prevention initiative.
One of the highest risk groups for suicide is people who have previously attempted suicide. In Sacramento, an innovative program seeks to reach that group directly and easily: through the simple phone call.
One of the program’s clients is John, a 29-year-old student at Sacramento’s American River College. Today, he describes himself as happy-go-lucky. But a year ago, he had lost two jobs, was facing bankruptcy and had to move in with friends.
Already feeling “emotionally and mentally stripped,” he was then was diagnosed with HIV. “That took away pretty much the last thing that I had, which I thought was my health,” he recalls.
One day last August, he reached an end. Feeling he was “tired of doing this,” he decided to take his own life.
“In my room, I wrote out my note,” he remembered. “I got all my medication out on my bed and I just started taking it. And … All of a sudden, what I just realized is here I am laying here on my floor. … I think, ‘Oh My God, what am I doing? What am I doing?’”
He called out for help, and his roommates called 9-1-1.
He woke up in downtown Sacramento at Sutter General Hospital’s emergency department with nurses pumping his stomach. He recovered. But before he was discharged, he was visited by a social worker, who told him about a unique program that would match him with a suicide prevention specialist. John signed up. That person would give him a call every few days for a month just to check in.
“Ultimately, I knew that I had a cushion for support,” John said about receiving those calls. “I knew that if I was having a hard time, I absolutely had somebody available there.” Continue reading