Suicide is among the 10 leading causes of death in San Luis Obispo County. The County Behavioral Health Department, in partnership with the Suicide Prevention Council, has made its draft 49-page Suicide Prevention Plan available for public review and comment until Wednesday, April 21.

“This is the first strategic plan for suicide prevention for the entire county,” said County Behavioral Health’s Suicide Prevention Coordinator Alysia Hendry, MS. “School districts have their own plans unique to their cultures and needs of their smaller communities, but the county plan is meant for schools, community members, community-based organizations, private and public sectors, and everyone who lives and works in this county.”

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and it is the eighth leading cause of death in the county according to County Public Health.

“Suicide is a leading cause of death, not just nationally, but here locally as well,” said Hendry “People may also live their lives experiencing thoughts of suicide and not make an attempt, this plan is for them, too. Our county has a higher rate of suicide than the state and nation. Rates are determined by the number of deaths/100,000. Data alone tells us that suicide is a public health issue. But this plan is not only about data, it’s about the lives behind each number and statistic, and works to build a tighter safety net through strategic collaboration.”

The Plan is the result of collaboration among community members, government agencies, and private and public organizations. In response to the State’s “Striving for Zero: California’s Strategic Plan for Suicide Prevention 2020,” the County and its partners built the local plan based on available data, stakeholder input, and community outreach. It provides a framework of strategic aims, goals, and objectives that will work to guide prevention, intervention, and postvention support for those affected by suicide.

One of the goals is for people to take or host training at their places of work, worship, or gathering.

“We can collectively start to change the language we use when we talk about suicide, learn to ask people if they are thinking about suicide and feel confident in how to refer them to the next level of support,” Hendry said. “Bars, restaurants, wineries, golf courses, and so many other places of recreation and leisure can train staff on identifying the signs of suicide. Businesses can include the local hotline number and other resources in their offices, and we have those materials and training staff to support those efforts.”

The Plan’s release comes at a critical time for promoting mental health and wellness. Although Hendry said preliminary analysis of a comparison over the past 5 years of suicide-related calls do not show an increase for 2020, self-reported mental health concerns are on the rise and some sectors of behavioral health services have seen an increase in clients.

“This year certainly has been difficult,” Hendry said. “One of our main concerns is what happens next. There is hope, a small light at the end of the tunnel regarding COVID-19, but the lasting effects that this past year has had on folks is yet to be determined, which is why publishing this plan now can help to inform community members, private and public agencies, the wine, beer, and cannabis industry, and so many more about their roles in suicide prevention.”

The goal of the Plan is to advocate for a stronger support system and create lasting change for those at risk of suicide; to challenge the misconceptions regarding mental illness and suicide through community collaboration; to create a community that supports and embraces those who struggle with suicide; and to create an environment of hope.

Questions, comments and feedback on the draft Suicide Prevention Strategic Plan can be submitted at surveymonkey.com/r/SLOStrategicPlan through Wednesday, April 21. The County’s Behavioral Health Advisory Board will convene a public hearing to receive additional feedback as part of their monthly meeting on April 21, at 3 p.m. 
View and download the plan at www.slobehavioralhealth.org.

“This is everyone’s chance to contribute to solutions and have their voices heard,” Hendry said. “If people don’t see themselves or their loved ones represented in the plan, we want to know that so we can improve our reach and make sure no community member is left out of the conversation for prevention efforts.”

The survey also has a link at the bottom that folks can click on that will take them to a separate survey where they can input their information if they want to attend the Suicide Prevention Council meetings, or if they are interested in joining the Loss Survivor Outreach team or another workgroup.

Community suicide prevention efforts in San Luis Obispo County date back to the 1950’s with the first volunteer-based suicide call line provided by local churches. SLO Hotline (now Central Coast Hotline, 1-800-783-0607) was officially created in the 70’s, and soon thereafter, efforts to provide community wide awareness and training began to evolve.

A common myth about suicide is that it is impulsive and done without warning.
“Most people who die by suicide communicated their plans for the attempt to someone prior to death,” the Plan reads. If someone is showing warning signs of suicide or expressing a desire to die, friends and loved ones are encouraged to:

  • Ask the person if they are contemplating suicide, do they have a specific plan and have they acted on it.
  • Express compassion to emphasis that help is available, including confidential resources.
  • Reach Out for support by calling crisis lines, which are available to people in crisis and those supporting them.
  • Follow Up by calling, texting or visiting to ask how the person is doing and if additional support is needed.

Another myth is that people who want to end their life are determined to do so and can’t be stopped.

“Over 90% of people who are interrupted will not go on to die by suicide at another location or by other methods,” the Plan states. “Research suggests that those at risk for suicide often show extreme ambivalence about the desire to die or live and express a high degree of suffering. The accounts of attempt survivors suggest that many people are relieved to have lived through an attempt and regain their desire to live. This fact highlights the opportunity to intervene and separate the person at risk from lethal means for a suicide attempt.”

For information about warning signs and how to help, visit suicideispreventable.org. If you or someone you know is struggling with suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline toll-free number, 1-800-273-TALK (8255).