As September is suicide prevention month, local entities are teaming up to spread awareness, as many people have struggled with mental health and addiction both locally and nationally.

Suicide is “everybody’s business” and everyone needs to become “suicide aware," said Ellen Eggert, president and founder of Save a Life Today, a local nonprofit organization dedicated to suicide prevention. She is also in charge of a Kern Behavioral Health and Recovery suicide hotline that is available 24/7.

In Kern County, 84 people have died by suicide this year, according to Eggert. In 2019, there were a total of 132 deaths by suicide locally, she said.

“There’s been studies done and they’re seeing more people are dealing with depression (this year),” Eggert said. “Suicide is hard to tell, though. You can’t tell in six months' work. Suicide stats take over a year from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) so it’s hard to tell how much of an impact this year has made.”

She said a lot of people are open to learning about suicide prevention.

"But you have people that have the attitude that it won’t happen in their family,” Eggert said. “The stigma needs to be gotten rid of.”

SALT usually hosts a suicide prevention fundraising walk in September, she said. However, due to COVID-19 precautions, the organization will host its walk virtually online throughout the month.

Eggert said people can get involved by going to their website at saltkc.com, signing up for the virtual walk and forming a team. Participants can submit pictures of themselves walking and are asked people to individually raise funds for the nonprofit.

Amber Smithson, director of business development at Bakersfield Behavioral Healthcare Hospital, said the hospital kicked off the month with a virtual event on Aug. 31 where they promoted both local and national suicide prevention organizations. Guest speakers at the event included SALT and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. The national organization Jason’s Foundation, which focuses on youth suicide prevention, was promoted.

“I think that it’s always important (to talk about suicide awareness) but we’ve seen this pandemic really effect individuals,” Smithson said. “There’s individuals whose daily routines have been so drastically altered that we see a rise in mental health and addiction and more people seem willing to talk about it and more people are willing to learn about it.

“People are more open to discuss the fact that they’re struggling.”

Eggert cited a recent study showing that 81 percent of people believe suicide prevention has to be a priority and that 91 percent to 92 percent of people are open to learning about suicide issues.

Mitchall Patel, public information officer for Kern Behavioral Health and Recovery Services, said the county department was able to light the County Administrative Building purple and teal for both suicide awareness month and recovery.

Smithson said that last Monday the outside of the hospital was illuminated in purple for its “Evening of Hope” alongside Mayor Karen Goh. She said she would love to get all of Bakersfield to “go purple” this month in solidarity with suicide prevention and awareness.

Patel also said the county will partner with the nonprofit muralist organization Creative Crossing to transform the Oleander neighborhood with murals to bring awareness to suicide prevention and recovery. The two entities will hold a media day Sept. 10, according to Patel.

Kei Deragon, Creative Crossing's founder, explained that they want to connect people to conversations about suicide prevention and recovery they "never had an excuse to have." 

"Creative Crossing's mission is to bring attention to the forgotten spaces that connect us; that's not limited to back alleys and neglected walls," Deragon said. 

Kern Behavioral Health and Recovery Services will be in Delano at the Delano Recovery Station from 3 to 5 p.m. on Sept. 15 to hand out information about local behavioral health and substance use disorder treatment.

On Sept. 17, it will host a virtual town hall from 3 to 4 p.m as well as hosting a “question, persuade and refer” training at 6 p.m. with College Community Services Tehachapi. On Sept. 24, it will pass out information about local behavioral health and substance use disorder treatment and services along with some goodies at their administrative building at 2001 28th St.

Their suicide prevention hotline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.

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