My name is Sammy Caiola and I’m the health care reporter for Capital Public Radio in Sacramento. I’ve been reporting on suicide prevention in Amador County for three months. I wrote an op-ed for this paper in May introducing myself and my work. The idea for the project came from my editor Linnea Edmeier, a local resident who became concerned after hearing about several suicides in the area. I wanted to write again to let you know where my project stands.
I want to make sure that Amador residents are guiding my work. To do that, I shared a survey asking about experiences and ideas. I received 11 honest, eye-opening and moving responses — you can still share your story by visiting CapRadio.org/RuralSuicide. We also held a gathering in Sutter Creek in June to talk about suicide prevention efforts in the county. We were thrilled that about 50 people turned out to share local resources, challenges and insights. You can read my notes from the gathering, as well as an op-ed about the meeting written by the leaders of NAMI Amador by visiting CapRadio.org/RuralSuicide.
Since I last wrote, I’ve learned a few key things: Let’s start with the data. The state’s 2018 County Health Status Report ranks Amador County third-highest for suicide rate, based on the number of suicide deaths per 100,000 people. I took a closer look at the suicide deaths in the county from 2010 to 2017. Note, this data was compiled by the Amador County Public Health Department and a UC Davis medical student. Suicide claimed 85 lives in Amador County during this time. Nearly 90 percent of people who killed themselves were men, most were over age 50. More than a quarter were veterans, a handful were inmates. More than half used a gun.
I also started exploring additional risk factors for both teens and seniors, two groups that tend to lack the social supports to stave off suicidal thoughts. I talked to high school students who are experiencing stress and depression related to demands at school, bullying, low self-esteem and sexual identity. Many of them said they only talk about suicidal thoughts with their friends, because they don’t think adults will take them seriously.
There are solutions in the works. The Amador County Unified School District is adding counselors, and teaming up with local nonprofits to get teachers and other staff trained up on suicide prevention. You’ll hear a lot more about that in our upcoming pieces.
I’ve also spent time talking to seniors who live by themselves and some experts who study loneliness as health issue. They found that going for long spells without human interaction negatively impacts brain function. It also makes people less likely to monitor their own health issues. I tagged along on the Amador Senior Center’s visiting program, which sends volunteers up to the homes of isolated older people. Clients told me it gives them something to look forward to, keeps the brain active and fights off depression.
Check out our upcoming project for more about the tie between loneliness and suicide.
I’ve also been talking to tribal leaders, veterans, parents and county supervisors about the overarching topic of stigma. I’ve learned there’s a culture of silence in Amador that often keeps people living with mental illness from seeking help. Sometimes, preventing suicide just starts with having a conversation. If you or someone you know is exhibiting signs of suicide — unusual sleeping patterns, mood swings, feeling like a burden, limiting social interactions — call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
My reporting will air as a series on Capital Public Radio 90.9 FM during national Suicide Prevention Week (Sept. 9 to 15) and be posted at CapRadio.org/RuralSuicide.
If you’re interested in exploring this topic further, I hope you’ll attend our gathering on Sept. 18 to listen to community voices, meet neighbors who care about this issue, and connect with organizations that offer support. You can RSVP here: tinyurl.com/SuicidePreventionGathering