Suicide prevention: A call to action

By the end of June, Douglas County had reached a grim milestone.

The Douglas County Sheriff's Office has been called out on 13 suicides, more than the total for last year and twice the number in 2005.

"We're only half way through the year, and that's the way it's been progressing," said Capt. Mike Biaggini, the county's chief deputy coroner.

"This does not account for any attempted suicides or completed suicides that may have been transported out of our jurisdiction before they were announced."

Biaggini can't pinpoint a single reason for the alarming increase. The victims range in age from 15 to the mid-60s.

"Everyone, I imagine, has their own reasons. The families can tell us if their loved one had been depressed. We've seen an increase in people with financial problems, but there also are people with medical problems they didn't want to face or deal with, or relationship problems," he said.

Biaggini and deputies who respond to the calls see the heartbreak and pain from the survivors' side.

"A lot of the time we go there, and the family knew the subject had been depressed, but they never anticipated it would go that far. It's pretty sad in how it affects the family and friends they leave behind," he said.

Douglas County is not alone in dealing with spiraling statistics.

Next month, the Partnership of Community Resources and the Nevada Office of Suicide Prevention are sponsoring a statewide conference at Carson Valley Inn on Suicide Prevention: Empowering Communities to Action.

Partnership Executive Director Cheryl Bricker said the Aug. 14-16 event has attracted national, state and local speakers.

The program is built on 2007 statistics that show Nevada has the second highest rate in the nation for suicide, behind Alaska, and the highest rate of seniors over age 60 committing suicide " more than twice the national average.

"In these times, I don't think we could have picked a better topic," Bricker said. "It's all about solutions, not whining about how we have a problem."

The conference offers continuing education credits for professionals, but Bricker said the topic is pertinent to any community member, and the public is encouraged to attend.

The cost is $125 for three days, and a few scholarships are available.

"We'd love to see seniors and parents attend," she said. "The more we connect, the more it helps everyone."

Bricker said she hopes the conference will bring attention to the problem of suicide and older adults.

"People know there is a problem with youth suicide, but they don't think about other age groups. Most of the time when a middle-age person commits suicide, no one ever knows about it. It's a private family matter, and the survivors don't know about resources or how to access them."

On June 27, a Johnson Lane couple was found dead in a vehicle in their garage. Biaggini said it was only the second double suicide he's investigated in 27 years with the sheriff's department.

"It's an absolute waste. It's pointless. People get to that point where they feel they have no other way out. They don't seek proper help. They don't confide in anybody who can help see them through the problem, that there is a solution and whatever is going on in their lives is not the end of the world. It's a bump, a hurdle, you have to cross, you can move on in life," Biaggini said.

Last fall, Douglas County sheriff's deputies were able to prevent a suicide by pulling a man out of his vehicle.

"These guys (deputies) showed up on the scene in time to save this individual from carbon monoxide poisoning. They were able to get him out of the vehicle and do some resuscitation. That person survived," he said.

Conference-goers are to hear from therapist Jodi Wass, counselor Richard Kale and Douglas Sheriff's Sgt. Bernadette Smith.

Wass is the facilitator of a local suicide survivors' group that meets twice a month at the partnership office.

Other speakers include Jerry Reed, former executive director of the Suicide Prevention Action Network, USA; Craig Bryan, Kelly Family Medicine Clinic, San Antonio, Texas; Thomas Joiner, distinguished research professor at the Florida State University psychology department and Misty Vaughn Allen, prevention coordinator for the Nevada Office of Suicide Prevention.

"Recent news reports have centered on Nevada's suicide rate, second highest in the nation and more than double the national average," Allen said. "The problem in Nevada's rural communities is exacerbated by the lack of mental health services available to people in need and their families."

Conference topics include the relationship between substance abuse and suicide, adolescent strategies, accidental suicide, suicide and the elderly and what employers, parents, grandparents and others can do.

"The more people know how to look for signs and reach out, it could make a difference. We want people to take information back to their communities and put it to use. You'll never know how many people did not commit suicide because of some way you helped them," Bricker said.


2008 13 (January through June)

2007 12

2006 6

2005 5

Source: Douglas County Sheriff's Office


" Survivors of Suicide Support Group, first and third Thursdays 6-7 p.m. at the Partnership of Community Resources, 1528 Highway 395, Suite 100. Family, friends or coworkers of those lost to suicide are invited. Information, 782-8611.

" Training in suicide prevention is available through the Nevada Office of Suicide Prevention. Information, Misty Vaughn Allen, (775) 684-3475, e-mail

" Resource telephone numbers: Crisis call line, (800) 992-5757; Douglas Mental Health, 782-3671; Douglas County Sheriff's Office, 911; Partnership of Community Resources, 782-8611.

Conference Information

The Partnership of Community Resources and the Nevada Office of Suicide Prevention are sponsoring a statewide conference Aug. 14-16 at Carson Valley Inn on Suicide Prevention: Empowering Communities to Action. Registration closes Aug. 8 at 5 p.m. Fee is $125, but some scholarships are available. Information, Amanda Johnson, 782-8611.


Survivors of Suicide

Nevada Office of Suicide Prevention

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Partnership of Community Resources


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