Suicide rates have dropped for the third consecutive year in San Diego County, according to an annual report by the San Diego County Suicide Prevention Council.
According to the Suicide Prevention Council’s report card, there were 364 lives lost in 2021, which county officials called a significant decrease compared to 2018 with 465 suicide deaths. The total number of suicide deaths in 2020 was 419, and 429 in 2019.
The council, county Board of Supervisors Chairman Nathan Fletcher, HHSA Behavioral Health Specialist Dr. Luke Bergmann, SPC Specialist Stan Collins and other community, education, and health professionals presented the report during a news conference.
The report comes in light of Suicide Prevention Week, which takes place between Sept.4-10. County residents have the opportunity on Oct. 6 to assess their emotional well-being during Check Your Mood Day, in recognition of National Depression Screening Day.
“I want you to know that the community cares, and there is no judgment for what you’re going through. There are services and people there to help you through the difficult path you may be on, and a big part of what we’ve been trying to do the last few years by investing in health care is tackling and breaking down stigmas,” Fletcher said.
According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, the national age-adjusted suicide rate in 2021 was 13.5 per 100,000 individuals. San Diego County ranks lower than the national average, with 10.3 per 100,000 individuals.
Fletcher acknowledged the year-over-year decreases but said there is still work to be done to reduce the number of self-harm-related deaths down to zero.
“Despite the fact that we see progress, that motivates us, even more, to continue to be there for people in more meaningful ways,” Fletcher said. “We know suicide can be prevented if you know the signs and find the words to talk about it so people can reach out for help.”
San Diego County launched a mobile crisis response unit this year that provides 24/7 countywide care during a time of crisis. According to Fletcher, the mobile crisis team works well with the county’s crisis stabilization units as a place for people to get help and support.
According to Ashton Harris, lead social work manager at Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group, about 45 percent of those who die by suicide have seen their primary care provider within one month of their death. Only 20 percent saw a mental health professional.
“This emphasizes the need for all medical providers, especially primary care offices to be prepared to recognize the signs, have a conversation, and screen for suicide,” Harris said.
Sharp Rees-Stealy now utilizes standardized assessment intervention tools applied by an interdisciplinary team of health professionals. According to Harris, the medical group utilizes the Solution-Focused Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment model, directly delivered to at-risk patients by social workers and a team of behavioral health professionals.
“Anyone out there struggling with substance abuse or thoughts of suicide, please know that your primary health care provider and those who work in their offices are resources are available to you. Please reach out, you deserve support, and we are here for you,” Harris said.
Stephen Carroll, LCSW and Senior Director of Behavioral Health Services at San Diego LGBTQ said that transgender people and LGBTQ youth are particularly impacted by these experiences. The Trevor Project 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ youth mental health found that 45 percent of LGBTQ youth seriously attempted suicide in the past year, including more than half of surveyed transgender and non-binary youth.
“Affirming practices are a key part of screening LGBT clients for suicide risk. As affirming practices allow people to be validated and respected and to be to feel seen and heard,” Carroll said.
It's not always obvious when someone is in pain. Anyone experiencing a mental health crisis can call 988 or the San Diego Access and Crisis Line at (888) 724-7240 for immediate assistance.
If you have lost a friend or loved one to suicide, you may find yourself in need of support. Find resources that are available for when you may need them most.
Learn more about warning signs and additional resources at https://up2sd.org/topics/suicide-prevention.