Sunday marks the beginning of National Suicide Prevention Week, an annual campaign to spread awareness about the warning signs of suicide.
According to the Skagit County Coroner’s Office, there have been 17 deaths by suicide in the county this year.
Taylor Froling, a counselor at the Skagit Counseling Center in Mount Vernon, said there is a strain on mental health resources in the area.
“The hard part is that balance of the private practice era, and the agency, and it’s like, we’re all full. We’re all busy,” she said. “There is a definite need for services.”
The Skagit Counseling Center offers a variety of affordable care options for children, teens, couples and families.
“We don’t ever turn clients away for lack of ability to pay,” Froling said.
She said the main barrier to care is the stigma that surrounds mental health.
Froling, who primarily works with teenagers, said she sees more conversations about mental health occurring, but that there is still work to be done.
“Last year, we went to some schools and talked to the parents groups just to try and spread awareness and kind of break that barrier and stigma, and just say, ‘We’re here, this is normal, this is what to look out for,’” she said.
Froling said talk therapy is a great option for those struggling with mental health, and that there are a variety of programs in Skagit County that focus on mental health awareness and education.
NAMI Skagit, for example, has been at the forefront of the county’s mental health battle since 2000.
Terri Mackey, a survivor of suicide and a former NAMI volunteer, said she got involved with the program after her daughter was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
She said her husband committed suicide in 1992, and after her daughter received her diagnosis Mackey decided to seek support and began educating herself on mental health.
“I just really wanted to bring more awareness to prevent someone else from having to go through what I did,” she said. “And then also to educate people so they can find a way to get their children diagnosed much more quickly.”
Mackey said awareness is key to getting people help, and knowing the signs of how to spot someone having thoughts of suicide can save a life.
Common suicide risk signs include withdrawal, isolation, loss of interest in activities and increased talk of suicide.
Mackey said another important component of suicide prevention is creating safe spaces in schools and workplaces for people who are seeking help.
“My husband, back in the day, had tried to get help and back then they said, ‘Oh, you know what, you’re just making this up. We think that you’re just trying to get out of work,’” she said, adding that she’s grateful for the changes that have happened in the past 30 years.
“It wasn’t like this,” she said. “I think society in general is really making great strides toward providing education for the masses.”
Also working to provide mental health support is the Washington State University Skagit County Extension’s Agricultural Suicide Prevention Pilot Program, a resource for farmers in Skagit County.
Don McMoran, who has worked for the extension since 2006, said after seeing suicides in the farming community, he felt the need to do something.
“I’m a fourth-generation farm kid so I was taught from a very young age, like, ‘No. 1, you don’t talk about your feelings, you internalize them.’ You’re taught to persevere through difficult times,” he said. “We’re trying to break those trends and say, “You know what, it’s OK to talk about it. And it’s OK to have difficult times.”
McMoran said his team partnered with Montana State University to conduct surveys that showed farmers tend to suffer in silence and aren’t as likely as others to reach out for help.
“If you asked me five years ago how to do outreach to the farmers, it was always in person, face to face,” he said. “Through the survey, we realized that farmers actually wanted to be able to access that information online through online courses.”
McMoran said farmers don’t feel needed, and this contributes to higher suicide rates in the industry.
“I think our ag producers are under a tremendous amount of stress currently,” he said. “USDA reports that there’s 1,042 farmers in Skagit County. With a growing population of around 130,000, that puts them at less than 1% of the population, and I think as a whole across our country agricultural producers feel like they’re not valued.”
McMoran said the extension’s program is also working to combat the stigma surrounding mental health support.
“I think there’s a lot of education that we need to get across to consumers, and then also needing to kind of rebuild community within the the ag community itself,” he said.
Right now, the state contracts with three 988 Lifeline crisis centers that connect anyone seeking help with a trained counselor for free.
Froling said there are a significant number of people silently suffering in Skagit County, and spreading awareness of the various resources available is important.
“A lot of people are struggling and not talking about it, and I see a significant amount of people that are struggling silently and hide and mask the way that they’re feeling,” she said. “My hope is that by spreading awareness we can help people not have to do that.”
Emma Burrell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 360-416-2141, Twitter: @goskagit