By CAROL A. CLARK
Los Alamos Daily Post
With confirmation from the Office of the Medical Investigator pending on a couple of cases, suicide deaths have tripled in the last six months over annual numbers in the last decade.
“We have averaged two suicides per year for the last 10 years but this year we’ve responded to six suicide deaths between January and the beginning of June,” Los Alamos Police Cmdr. Oliver Morris said in an interview with the Los Alamos Daily Post. “Five of the six were male … the female died of self asphyxiation and each of the males died of self-inflicted gunshot wounds.”
Nationally more than 50 percent of males commit suicide by firearm and 34 percent of females by poisoning, Cmdr. Morris said, adding that about half of suicide victims leave a note. The majority commit suicide in their own home – those who go elsewhere often do so because they have family members at home.
“Of the six suicides or suspected suicide this year in Los Alamos, the average age was 59,” Cmdr. Morris said. “The youngest was 32 years old and the oldest was 84.”
Cmdr. Morris said he was not sure what has triggered the recent spike in local suicide deaths because several occurred prior to the COVID-19 stay at home order.
“We as police officers are taught to recognize signs of someone thinking about suicide such as when they talk about it, or start giving away their possessions, cars and other things they won’t be needing anymore,” he said. “Isolation is definitely a factor in suicide … we encourage people to get outside, take walks, talk to family and friends over the phone and Zoom.
Family and friends are the gatekeepers for their loved ones. If they notice red flags, Cmdr. Morris encourages them to try to talk the suicidal person into giving up their firearms for safe keeping.
“The police department can keep firearms for someone going through a rough time,” he said. “In some cases, we will get a court order, but we prefer that the person surrender their weapons. During this time when so many people are staying home there’s less chance for gatekeepers to notice symptoms … we encourage people feeling suicidal to seek help.”
He encourages gatekeepers to question, persuade and refer (QPR) a suspected suicidal person. One of the resources Cmdr. Morris mentioned for people needing help or concerned loved ones is www.losalamosmentalhealth.org, which does screenings for depression, PTSD and other issues and also has a crisis line.
Cmdr. Morris also mentioned the toll responding to suicides can take on responding officers.
“We’re in a small town and we often know the people and it’s difficult, especially when it’s children,” he said. “But our officers are always professional and do their job. Afterward they may go through a debriefing with one of our police chaplains.”
Los Alamos County Social Services Manager Donna Casados also was not sure what has caused the recent rise in local suicide deaths.
“Overall, depression, substance abuse, lack of support and not knowing where to turn are big factors,” Casados said. “The biggest hurdle is accepting help and being able to reach out.”
The County has partnered with “OpenBeds” and is now a provider, she said.
OpenBeds and the New Mexico Department of Human Services’ Behavioral Health Services Division recently partnered to launch the New Mexico Behavioral Health Referral Network.
The New Mexico Behavioral Health Referral Network allows New Mexico’s treatment community to assess the needs of their patients, locate an appropriate facility, and digitally refer them for care rapidly and effectively.
“The potential to coordinate care quickly and accurately when our neighbors need to transition from one level of care to another can improve the quality of treatment,” said Behavioral Health Services Division Director Neal A. Bowen, PhD in a news release. “It holds the promise of allowing providers, families, and patients to focus on the treatment needs of an episode of care rather than the logistical processes.”
Also, the Human Services Department provides services and benefits to more than 1 million New Mexicans through several programs including: the Medicaid Program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Program, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Child Support Program, and several Behavioral Health Services.
“We hear that insurance is a big factor in why some people don’t seek help,” Casados said. “That should not keep anyone from seeking help because the state has assistance and the County has an Indigent Health Fund for residents in need.”
Casados encourages anyone feeling suicidal to reach out.
“It’s worse to ignore it … and everyone needs help every now and then,” she said.
To learn more, visit www.losalamosmentalhealth.org.