PULLMAN - Often when someone takes his own life, others ask themselves what more could they have done to help prevent it.
A pivotal place to start is recognizing the signs of suicide before it happens, and a panel of mental health professionals and the city's Police Advisory Committee met Monday night for a community conversation with that goal in mind.
The meeting followed the recent high-profile suicides of Washington State University quarterback Tyler Hilinski in January, and longtime Pullman psychologist Dean Funabiki, who committed suicide in his jail cell last month following allegations he sexually assaulted a patient.
According to statistics provided by the Pullman Police Department, there have been 13 suicides in the city since January 2013. Those figures don't include suicides that occurred on the WSU campus.
"The high-profile suicides are tragic, but it does create a conversation about the topic and that's a good thing," Police Chief Gary Jenkins told the Tribune. "But people do need to know it's more frequent than just the high-profile suicides they know about."
Four mental health counselors from Palouse River Counseling - Greg Wilson, Scott Kuhle, Kelly Heinlen and Stacy Pettit - discussed the tell-tale signs of suicide and its prevalence.
"If you don't walk away with any information, walk away with this - a previous attempt puts someone at a whole new level of risk," Wilson said.
Citing statistics provided by the World Health Organization, Wilson said an estimated 804,000 suicides occurred in 2012.
"Globally, suicide accounts for 50 percent in all violent deaths in men and 71 percent of all violent deaths in women," he said.
Pettit outlined the most common suicide risk factors.
"If you are a male, you are at higher risk," Pettit said. "If they have psychosis, if they are lacking social support, if they don't have a plan."
Pettit said those suffering from depression, a loss of rational thought, a physical illness or alcohol abuse are more likely to commit suicide; she said it's the same for those who are divorced, widowed or single, as well as adolescents and the elderly.
She said on average about three to four people are taken to the hospital weekly in Pullman to be assessed for suicidal symptoms, and like most medical offices that specialize in mental health, meeting the community's need with the current resources has proved challenging.
Chris Santucci, a Navy veteran and WSU student who sits on the Police Advisory Committee, said he knows several student veterans who are struggling to get health services at WSU, and many are unaware of the services within the community.
Santucci said he would have sought services from the university but a restriction on the number of visits had him and others questioning if a brief stint of services would help. He noted the nearest Veterans Affairs hospital is in Spokane.
"It decreases the incentive if there's a cap on mental health," he said.
Pettit said after eight sessions at the university per semester, students are funneled to other care providers in the community.
Matthew Sutherland, a member of the committee, questioned what was being done in schools to educate students on suicide and where they can go for help.
Former Pullman High School principal Rex Thornton said in recent years health classes that educate students on suicide resources have been moved back from junior and senior years of high school to freshman classes.
Pettit advised parents to watch their children, ensure they know what adults they can go to with a concern, and look for signs of isolation or changes in behavior.
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