Network seeks to raise awareness of suicide

First responders at a reported suicide in early April 2020, just a few weeks into the coronavirus outbreak.

First responders at a reported suicide in early April 2020, just a few weeks into the coronavirus outbreak.


Smoke canceled Saturday’s third annual Andy’s Ride for Suicide Awareness, though the need to recognize how suicide affects Douglas County is hardly obscure.

With Suicide Prevention Week coming Sept. 5-11, the seven suicides in Douglas County so far in 2021 are on track to equal the 15 reported during 2020.

Douglas County commissioners heard a report from Sheriff Dan Coverley, who serves as the county coroner.

“From my experience, we have a fairly significant older population, and based on the cases I’ve worked, people get to the point where they are sick, or have other issues, and this is the out they choose to take,” Coverley said of the county’s suicide rate. “It’s unfortunate, and it affects everyone forever.”

Suicide Prevention Network Executive Director Debbie Posnien said of the seven people who committed suicide in 2021 so far, five are over the age of 60.

“When I walk into a room to speak, people think it’s teens, but teens are not killing themselves in our area, at least,” she said. According to the Sheriff’s Office, there have been two confirmed suicides involving someone under the age of 18 in the last six years, with the last in 2019.

Posnien said people also always assume suicides are more prevalent over the holidays, but the reality is that they are more common during the spring.

She said that the sheriff’s office has responded to 57 suicidal subjects and 13 attempted suicides in 2021.

She said that there are a dozen cases where no determination has been made as to the cause of death because they are waiting toxicology.

“We don’t know if they died of suicide or not,” she said. “So, the number could always change.”

Coverley said that the deputy coroners look at a lot of factors before declaring a death suicide.

“We have to be very deliberate when we make a determination,” he said. “We don’t call it suicide unless we find a note or there are facts found beforehand that support the determination.”

He said that in most cases, people who commit suicide prepare answers ahead of time by leaving a note and getting their affairs in order.

“Someone who isn’t intending to kill themselves isn’t thinking in that manner,” he said.

Coverley said that last year the sheriff’s office dealt with 39 attempted suicides and 124 suicidal subjects.

“We try to contact them and try to help them and get them the help they need,” he said.

The Sheriff’s Office also contacted 125 people in connection with mental health calls.

“Not every one of those is suicidal and not every person, who is having suicidal thoughts is having mental health issues,” Coverley said. “The issue is that there’s nowhere to take these people. “In the quad counties the closest is Mallory at Carson Tahoe Center, and everyone goes there. We’re all competing for the same resources.”

Posnien said that since the coronavirus outbreak arrived in March 2020 a lot of the calls to the suicide hotline are from people in crisis.

“Now the doors have opened up, they are afraid to go out because they’ve isolated themselves and they are really concerned with depression,” she said. “The world is crazy and you can’t get away from it.”

In 2020, three people committed suicide during April and another three during July. There were 14 men and one woman among the dead and all but three were by gunshot.

All three of those were in April and included a 57-year-old man who locked himself in a hotel room and used gas in Minden.

Two other men died of overdoses during the month.

July saw the only woman commit suicide during the year along with two men, all three by gunshot.

The number of completed suicides in 2020 was down from 2019, when 17 people took their own lives. The rate has been up and down since 2017. It has been five years since the number of suicides a year was down below double digits.


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