In a small community, a killer taking roughly a life a month for the past two years would be noticed. It would be the talk of every coffee shop and community gathering. It would be front page news.

For the past two years, there has on average been about one suicide a month in Kittitas County. This weekend in an extensive story produced by the Daily Record’s summer intern, Nick Tucker, that news was reported for the first time.

There are a lot of factors as to why this information has not been widely disseminated.

Traditionally newspapers in general, and the Daily Record specifically, have not reported on suicides. The one exception for the Daily Record is if the suicide takes place in a highly public setting. This came up several years ago when a young men killed himself by jumping in front of a train.

There are established guidelines from mental health professionals as to how to report on suicides.

Research shows that certain types of suicide coverage can increase the likelihood of suicide in vulnerable populations. Newspaper have long opted to error on the side of caution in covering suicides.

But Kittitas County’s suicide rate by some measures in 2018 was near double the state rate — obviously we have a smaller population so a spike can skew percentages.

If you combine that fact, though, with survey information from local public schools that show a high rate of suicidal ideation (planning for a suicide) among eighth graders, it is undeniable that this is an issue to address.

And it is being addressed. Mental health, public health and emergency responder officials in Kittitas County are well aware of the suicide rate and the mental health concerns among a range of population groups. This past summer the Kittitas County Health Department helped organize and Mental Health First Aid workshop. This was to help people (non-mental health professionals) to recognize signs of mental health issues.

The challenge is we have these highly dedicated professionals working to address this issue within a larger cultural and social setting where suicide is not mentioned.

If we acknowledge the issue and even identify people who may need help, the next step is helping people access the care needed.

Overall, across the state and nation, it is hard to obtain mental health care. This is particularly true in rural areas like Kittitas County.

After years of neglecting the mental health care system, this state is making progress is dispersing services across the state. It will not be a quick fix.

One of the cliches about the West is rugged individualism and for the most part we respect giving people their space. But the one thing to remember with suicide is it is considered preventable.

If you take one snippet of information from this weekend’s story, let it be that fact.

As spouses, partners, family members, loved ones, coworkers, neighbors, etc. there may be times when we have to have that “uncomfortable” conversation with someone who appears to be struggling. We do like to give people their space in the West, but we also have a strong tradition of helping those in need.

There is a lot wrapped up with this problem — long-time stigma to needing mental health care and lack of mental health services — but finding away to help our loved ones, friends and neighbors in need will save lives. It is worth the work.


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