San Jose could soon have a suicide prevention policy — nearly two years after one lawmaker’s quest to create one — and the same week a depressed woman killed her two young children and took her own life.
This week San Jose lawmakers gave the green light to Councilmember Raul Peralez’s proposal to craft a policy to build awareness around suicide prevention. Smaller cities in the region, such as Los Gatos, Milpitas, Mountain View, Morgan Hill and Palo Alto, all have such policies.
“While mental health services may not fall under the jurisdiction of the city, there are still measures we can take to promote and put forth resources to prevent suicides,” Peralez wrote in his proposal. “One suicide fatality is one too many and I hope for the day when we can bring that number down to zero.”
The plan calls for city officials to review current protocols for a suicide attempt, publicly promote suicide prevention awareness at city events and meetings, develop new communication methods to spread suicide prevention resources and to boost collaboration in city, county and state programs that combat suicide deaths.
City leaders will bring back the councilman’s proposal for further recommendations.
As the 10th leading cause of death in the country, at least one person dies by suicide every two hours in California, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Just this week, a San Jose woman reportedly killed her two sons, 4 and 5 years old, before killing herself in her house. The woman’s boss said she allegedly suffered from depression.
Peralez and local advocates are hoping to offer resources for those struggling with suicidal thoughts and educate those who know little about the issue.
Suicide is the third leading cause of death among youth ages 10-24, and LGBTQ youth are 5 times more likely than their heterosexual peers to attempt suicide.
“It’s just not knowing, being trapped,” said Gabrielle Antolovich of the Billy DeFrank LGBTQ+ Community Center. “So the feeling of not having any options, and life is over, and that’s it. “These are precursors to feeling suicidal. It’s fertile ground for suicide. It’s fertile ground for rejection. And when you feel you don’t have any other option, that’s what helps create a suicidal situation, and so we want to prevent that.”
Peralez has pushed for a suicide prevention policy since 2017, following his introduction of new gun safety legislation to reduce gun deaths in San Jose. That same year, more than 47,000 Americans died by suicide.
“One factor that kind of contributes to suicide rates is a really high stigma against mental illness and getting help for mental health issues,” said Mego Lien, Santa Clara County’s suicide prevention program manager. “A suicide prevention policy has a norm-setting value.”
Vic Ojakian, a Palo Alto suicide prevention advocate and co-president for NAMI’s Santa Clara County chapter jumped into the fight against suicide deaths after his 21-year-old son took his own life in 2004. Breaking down the stigma surrounding mental illnesses is a key factor in addressing suicide deaths, he said.
“I harbor a theory, a hypothesis, [that] one of the ways you can help reduce suicides is having a better community understanding that people are losing their lives, and we all need to be conscientious and helpful,” Ojakian said. “You can’t quit around this area because people are going to resist talking about it. It is considered a taboo in this area.”
He stressed the importance of a specific mission in suicide prevention.
“Remember what our goal is,” Ojakian said. “Our goal is to save lives.”
Santa Clara County currently has a 24/7 free and confidential Suicide and Crises Services Hotline at 1-800-278-4204.
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