Man sitting at desk reading documents.
San Jose Councilmember Raul Peralez is pictured in this file photo. Photo by Nadia Lopez.

    Nearly three years after one lawmaker proposed the idea, the San Jose City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved adopting a citywide suicide prevention policy to raise awareness and shift resources toward a mental health epidemic that results in the death of dozens of residents each year.

    Councilmember Raul Peralez in 2017 pitched the plan, which calls for reviewing current city protocols for a suicide attempt, promoting suicide prevention awareness at city events and meetings, and developing new communication methods to spread suicide prevention resources and boost collaboration between city, county and state programs that combat suicide deaths.

    “One of the biggest things that I’ve learned along the way is just to remove the stigma,” Peralez told San José Spotlight before the meeting Tuesday. “The reality is that… people are suffering. We could come in and prevent this — every single suicide could be prevented.”

    The councilmember first got involved with suicide prevention in his early 20s, helping identify suicidal behavior by volunteering with homeless youth. Through his QPR training, which stands for Question, Persuade and Refer, he played a vital role in suicide prevention.

    “I took a training to recognize, address and deal with having suicidal thoughts and feelings and that was how I got more involved in understanding it better and how we as society can help,” he said.

    On average, at least one person in California dies by suicide every two hours, while staggering reports reveal the national suicide rate has increased by 40 percent in the last two decades, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    But the number of people who are at risk and report feeling suicidal has substantially risen. Nationwide, more than 10 million adults in 2017 reported they “seriously thought” about taking their own life, while 3.2 million reported making a suicide plan and more than 1 million reported a suicide attempt, according to city officials. The state’s suicide rate averages about 10.7 deaths per 100,000 people, accounting as the 10th leading cause of death in the country.

    “In the course of one’s life we come across to many people — one is too many—  who have committed suicide because they didn’t see another way out for them,” Councilmember Pam Foley said. “I really think that this is another way that we can help those who are so desperately in need — some that we don’t even know are in need. This is really important that we talk about this as a public health crisis — it truly is.”

    Smaller cities in the region, such as Los Gatos, Milpitas, Mountain View, Morgan Hill and Palo Alto, all have such policies.

    Santa Clara County has been promoting suicide prevention through its strategic plan for nearly ten years, annually publishing a suicide prevention report analyzing the plan’s effectiveness. Currently, the county’s plan includes several suicide intervention programs and services for “high risk” individuals, promotes a community education and information campaign, and prioritizes suicide data collection and monitoring to evaluate its prevention efforts.

    “We know 100 percent if we can get to somebody before they commit that act, then we can prevent that,” Peralez added.

    Under the proposed policy, the city intends to promote “help-seeking” strategies to individuals considering suicide through the county and the Suicide Prevention Resource Center. The city’s goal is to boost the county’s efforts in San Jose by raising awareness, providing resources for those seeking treatment, reducing stigma associated with suicidal thoughts and behavior, and increasing knowledge of risk factors, causes and warning signs.

    Peralez hopes to mirror other city-led prevention programs, such as Mayor Sam Liccardo’s Gang Prevention Task Force, that aims to stop youth from joining gangs or the city’s VisionZero strategy to prevent traffic-related deaths.

    The city will partner with the county to offer a suicide prevention training to city officials later this month and distribute more information on prevention efforts during Suicide Prevention Month in September.

    Contact Nadia Lopez at [email protected] or follow @n_llopez on Twitter.

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