At ten minutes to 10 in the morning on April 27, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office received a call from someone who lives in Texas. From thousands of miles away, the man had called to report he was worried about his friend who lived in Jefferson County and had been saying that he wanted to shoot himself.
Suicide responders on front line of growing problem
At ten minutes to 10 in the morning on April 27, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office received a call from someone who lives in Texas.
From thousands of miles away, the man had called to report he was worried about his friend who lived in Jefferson County and had been saying that he wanted to shoot himself.
These kinds of calls aren’t unusual for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.
On April 4, a similar call came in from an online crisis hotline in Los Angeles. They had been chatting online with a man from Port Hadlock, who was planning to kill himself between 8 and 9 p.m., after he put his kids to bed.
In both of these cases, deputies were able to intervene. On April 27, they went to the man’s house in Nordland and he explained that he had just been frustrated and venting to his friend over the phone.
During the April 4 call, deputies worked with the online crisis chat line to talk with the man, until he agreed to be picked up by police and given a ride to Jefferson Healthcare for a voluntary evaluation.
Not every call ends with a successful de-escalation and Jefferson County statistics show a rise in suicide during the last decade, but reaching out for help in those times is vital, said Jessica MacKinnon, clinical director at Discovery Behavioral Healthcare in Port Townsend.
People will sometimes talk about suicide directly or make what seems like jokes about it, she said, which is called suicidal ideation, or having suicidal thoughts.
“It’s important to take those seriously because it could be a cry for help,” she said. “Stopping and asking more questions to see if they might need help is important. Say, ‘Tell me more,’ or ‘Is there anything I can do to help?’”
When someone calls 911, deputies will attempt to contact the person in crisis, said Undersheriff Andy Pernsteiner.
“We will attempt to have the subject meet us at a safe location with no weapons,” he said. “Deputies will offer support by offering a ride—often times an ambulance is used instead of a patrol car—to take the subject to the hospital to be evaluated by a mental health professional.”
Discovery Behavioral Health has a team of crisis responders who often work with the hospital and law enforcement to help those who are experiencing mental health crises or suicidal ideation.
“What we are usually looking for is, if the person has a plan structured in their mind of how to do it,” she said. “Then we are also looking at if they have the intent to follow through on the plan and the means to do it.”
If someone has the plan, the intent and the means to kill themselves, Discovery Behavioral Health crisis responders will work with that person to get help. Sometimes that can mean admission to the hospital, or setting up daily meetings at Discovery Behavioral Health, or getting appointments with a therapist.
“Sometimes people just need help getting services set up,” MacKinnon said.
At Discovery Behavioral Health, they offer outpatient therapy, medication management, day treatment, group therapy and can help facilitate appointments with Safe Harbor recovery services, Jefferson Healthcare, or Dove House Advocacy Services, among others.
They also have a 24 hour crisis line, at (360) 385-0321, or Toll Free: 1-877-410-4803, where people can call if they are feeling suicidal and don’t know what to do.
For friends and family, this crisis line can also help facilitate how they can respond to someone in their lives who may have expressed suicidal ideas and thoughts. They can also stop in Discovery Behavioral Health during their operating hours from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 884 W Park Ave, Port Townsend. They see everyone ages 5 and up, and take Medicare.
“It’s sad when someone hasn’t reached out for help at all,” MacKinnon said. “Awareness is really important. The more that people talk about it, the better. … Many people experience episodes of depression and suicidal thoughts, and they are not in isolation.”