Nevada has one of the highest suicide rates in the country — and there are many reasons why.
A sprawling state full of newcomers from many different cultures and speaking many different languages presents challenges to those who work to prevent suicide. As a result, more Nevadans die at their own hands than are killed in homicides or car accidents.
Suicide Prevention Week is marked in September, and the Nevada Coalition for Suicide Prevention and the Nevada Office of Suicide Prevention have planned a series of events around the state, including two in Southern Nevada, to raise awareness of the issue.
Misty Allen is the head of the state's suicide prevention office. She said there is a stigma around suicide so much so that in some languages there isn't even a word for it.
But she believes the stigma around suicide is lifting and more people are talking about it.
"I think the dialogue is shifting," she said, "We're out there. We're increasing our collaboration our training core so that stigma is reducing."
She said for the first time Nevada is out of the top ten states for suicides, but she says there is more to do. Allen said there are more programs, improved protocols, and better education and screening.
"We're seeing a continuum of care that is consistently improving," she said, "We have a long way to go without a doubt but it is getting better."
Assemblyman Chris Edwards is a former member of the military and has worked to pass laws to help service members who might be suicidal.
He said AB105, which was passed this past legislative session, is one of those laws.
Under AB105, anyone with a health care license must get training for suicide prevention. Edwards said most people who commit suicide see a health care provider in the weeks leading up to the suicide.
"If the doctors and the nurses and the psychiatrist are a little more in tune they might be the ones who catch the signal and save a life," he said.
Besides helping doctors, nurses and other health care professionals look for people who might be suicidal. The state has also reached out to places where people in crisis could get their hands on a gun.
Richard Egan is the state's suicide prevention training coordinator. For the past four years, he has gone to gun shops, shows and ranges to talk to employees, sellers and gun enthusiasts.
He said some people think it might be a difficult conversation to have but giving gun shop and gun range employees training on the signs of someone in a life crisis could save a life.
"Can you imagine somebody going to a gun shop or shooting range to find a way to end their life and instead of finding a way to end their life, they can get connected to community resources to help them save their life," Egan said.
He said most people who are suicidal are looking for help and just want someone to offer it. He said it is a matter of someone asking the simple question, "Is everything okay? Are you thinking about ending your life?"
Nevada has unique challenges when it comes to suicide prevention, including the rural landscape, a transient population, a doctor shortage and a potentially problematic activity on every corner.
When the fun ends and gambling becomes a problem, it could be a factor in a person's downward spiral.
Sydney Smith is a therapist who specializes in problem gambling. She said people get a sense of hopelessness especially when the financial wreckage from problem gambling takes years to unravel.
"Often times these situations can cause a lot of helplessness and hopelessness in a person and suicide can appear to the only way out, which it is not," she said.
Smith said she always asks someone who has come to her for help if he or she has contemplated suicide. If he or she answers 'yes,' she then follows up with a question about whether he or she has a plan. She said just because someone has thought about it doesn't mean they'll act on it, but it is important to talk about it.
Talking about suicide is what helped Chantal Corcoran get help for her teenage son, who told her he was thinking about killing himself.
After trying for weeks to find help for her son, she finally put him a facility where he received medication to help with his depression, but he didn't receive the counseling he needed.
Eventually, Corcoran took her son to California to receive help. He is now doing much better and has become an advocate for suicide prevention.
Corcoran advises people in a situation similar to hers to never give up looking for help.
"I'm sorry you're going through that because it is a very, very difficult thing," she said, "But more than anything, you have to stay strong for your children, keep talking and find the help. Keep looking for the help."
On Saturday morning the coalition will host the 11th Annual Walk in Memory — Walk for Hope at Bob Miller Middle School in Henderson. The coalition event offers support to those affected by suicide as well as raises funds for various suicide prevention programs in communities and resources throughout the state.
Similar walks are planned for Saturday in Reno, Carson City, Elko, Mesquite, and throughout rural Nevada.
On Sunday at 6:30 p.m., “Yoga for a Cause” on the Lawn at Downtown Summerlin will raise funds and awareness for the suicide prevention cause.
Coalition member, Strip performer and Yoga for a Cause creator Amelia Bruff, has selected teen suicide prevention as the cause for this year’s event.
“Yoga is the kind of upstream activity that shows people how to counter stress before it reaches a crisis,” said Bruff, who appears in “Le Rêve – The Dream” at Wynn Las Vegas. “Also, yoga is an effective way to reach teen girls, who make up one of the fastest-growing demographics of suicide victims.”
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If you or someone you know is in crisis call the national hotline:
Mobile Crisis Response Team - Hotline: South: 702-486-7865 or North: 775-688-1670
De Prevencion del Suicido - 1-888-628-9454
Crisis Call Center - Text Line - Text - "Listen" to 839863
Misty Allen, head of state suicide prevention office; Richard Egan, suicide prevention training coordinator; Sydney Smith, therapist who treats problem gambling; Pamela Goldberg, therapist who focuses on young people; Amelia Bruff, Strip performer, yoga instructor and suicide prevention activist; Chris Edwards, assemblyman; Chantal Corcoran, Henderson writer who chronicled son’s bout with suicidal depression
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