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Whatcom County volunteers hope to help bring danger of suicide ‘Out of the Darkness’

Know the warning signs for suicide and what to do next

ReportingOnSuicide.org offers these tips if someone you know exhibits warning signs of suicide. The U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800-273-TALK.
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ReportingOnSuicide.org offers these tips if someone you know exhibits warning signs of suicide. The U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800-273-TALK.

Of the 129 forensic death investigations conducted by the Whatcom County Medical Examiner’s office in 2018, one-third were determined to be from a suicide, according to the annual report submitted by Dr. Gary Goldfogel.

The number — 42 — was only one down from the 43 deaths the office determined to be suicide in 2017, but still substantially higher than the number of suicides investigated by the office in previous years.

In 2016, only 30 investigated deaths were determined to be suicide, and only once in the reports released between 2000 and 2016 has the number of suicides investigated by the medical examiner topped 40 — there were 41 in 2013.

That’s a trend a group of volunteers from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the Lions Clubs of Whatcom County Zone H-1 hope to bring attention to when they hold the first Whatcom County Out of the Darkness Walk Saturday morning, Sept. 14, at Bellingham High School.

“Suicide touches one in five American families,” event chairperson Steve Carroll said in a press release about the event. “We hope that by walking we will draw attention to this issue and keep other families from experiencing a suicide loss. Our ultimate goal is to save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide.”

Though Carroll told The Bellingham Herald he is hoping for at least a couple hundred people to participate, he didn’t know exactly how many people will show up for the approximately four-mile-long walk that will travel through area neighborhoods to Cornwall Park, downtown and back to Bellingham High.

The walk is one of more than 550 Out of the Darkness walks and events being held nationwide this year, according to the release, that are expected to draw more than 300,000 walkers. Last year the national events raised more than $21 million for suicide prevention. The goal for Whatcom County’s walk is to raise $25,000.

The event will begin at 8 a.m. with guest speakers, including Bellingham City Council member Gene Knutson and other community resource partners, the release said. The walk will begin at 9 a.m.

“These walks are about turning hope into action,” foundation Chief Executive Officer Robert Gebbia said in the release. “The research has shown us how to fight suicide, and if we keep up the fight, the science is only going to get better and our culture will get smarter about mental health.

“With the efforts of our courageous volunteers, and a real investment from our nation’s leaders, we hope to significantly reduce the suicide rate in the United States.”

Suicide is on the rise across the United States. It is more than a mental health condition — states and communities can adopt comprehensive strategies to prevent suicide.

‘Awareness saves lives’

According to the release, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.

Between 2000 and 2018, the Whatcom County Medical Examiner’s Office investigated 580 deaths that were determined to be suicide, according to data compiled by The Herald from annual reports. That is 30.5 suicides per year and represented 27% of the 2,169 deaths in which the office assumed jurisdiction and investigated during that time.

Of those 580 suicides, more than three-quarters (448) were male, while 132 were female, according to the reports.

All ages of Whatcom County residents were susceptible to the dangers of suicide — 6% (35) were 19 or younger, 37% (214) were between 20 and 39, 38% (220) were between 40 and 59 and 19% were 60 or older.

According to the Healthy Youth Survey, released in May by the Whatcom County Health Department, in a typical classroom of 30 Whatcom County 10th-grade students, 20 have seriously considered suicide in the past year and two tried to kill themselves.

“Awareness saves lives,” Carroll said in the release. “I want to encourage as many people as possible to register to walk with us in this year’s event in order to create a conversation about suicide prevention and to provide hope to those who may be struggling in Whatcom County.”

Walk information

What: Whatcom County Out of the Darkness Walk

When: 8 a.m. to noon Saturday, Sept. 14

Where: Starting and finishing at Bellingham High School, 2020 Cornwall Ave. The four-mile walk will wind to Cornwall Park, downtown and back to Bellingham High.

Online: Register for the walk or donate at afsp.org/wawalks.

The annual fundraising march for suicide awareness and prevention draws hundreds of family and friends in a move to open conversations and promote healing.

If you need help

The National Alliance for Mental Illness Whatcom website suggested these resources if you or someone you know needs help:

Whatcom County Behavioral Health Triage Center: 800-584-3578.

Compass Health Crisis Prevention/Intervention Team: 360-752-4545.

National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 800-273-8255 (Español 888-628-9454; TTY 800-799-4889).

Washington Recovery Help Line 866-789-1511 (TTY 206-461-3219).

Washington Warm Line: 877-500-9276 (Peer support for people living with mental illness Wednesday, Friday and Saturday 5-9 p.m.).

Your Life Your Voice Teen and Young Adult Hotline: 800-448-3000 (24-hour confidential teen/young adult hotline).

Teen Link: 866-833-6546 (A confidential helpline for teens – 6-10 p.m.).

David Rasbach joined The Bellingham Herald in 2005 and now covers breaking news. He has been an editor and writer in several western states since 1994.
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