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Tillamook suicide rate third-highest in Oregon

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Posted: Wednesday, October 6, 2010 9:00 am

Tillamook County’s suicide rate is nearly twice the state average. A series of community meetings this month aims to do something about it.

A study just released by the Oregon Department of Human Services found that from 2003-07, Tillamook County had a suicide rate of 28.2 per 100,000 people, compared with the state’s rate of 15.7.

Tillamook’s rate is the third-highest in the state, behind Grant and Harney counties.

Suicide was the second-leading cause of death among Oregonians ages 15-24, and the ninth-leading cause of death among all Oregonians.

There are more deaths from suicide in Oregon than from car crashes.

These grim statistics come as no surprise to Tillamook County Sheriff Todd Anderson, whose department has investigated 10 suicides here so far this year.

The deaths ranged from “severe medical conditions to several circumstances with people who had issues with law enforcement that they didn’t want to face,” he said.

Anderson said that more often than not, there is no note. “Suicide always leaves so many more questions than answers,” he said.

In addition, Anderson said, “Tillamook County is a beautiful place. We often have people who come here to take their life.” Visitors have jumped off Neahkahnie Mountain, he said, and some have taken their lives in the seclusion of the forest.

According to figures from the Tillamook County medical examiner, of the 50 people who have killed themselves in Tillamook County since 2004, 17 were from out of town.

Although the highest suicide rates are among men ages 65 and older, young people also are at risk.

“Over the last couple of years, we’ve lost a lot of kids to suicide,” said Daeh Christensen-Carney, the alcohol and drug prevention specialist with the Tillamook Family Counseling Center.

“We wanted to do something in the community that would not only reach the kids, but the parents and adults in the community, so they would know how to help.”

Christensen-Carney is organizing three “Unite 4 Life” community meetings this month that will focus on combating suicide rates among teens and young people.

Unite 4 Life is a nonprofit organization founded in December 2006 in response to two teen suicides in Livermore, Calif. The program’s founder speaks at school assemblies and community meetings about the warning signs of suicide and the links among substance abuse, depression and suicide.

The DHS study found that more than 70 percent of people who commit suicide in Oregon had substance abuse problems or a diagnosed mental disorder.

Unite 4 Life will hold three community meetings, all from 6-8:15 p.m., in the Tillamook High School cafeteria (Oct. 12), at Kiwanda Community Center in Pacific City (Oct. 13) and at Neah-Kah-Nie Middle School in Rockaway Beach (Oct. 14). For more information, call 503-812-5505.

The Tillamook and Neah-Kah-Nie high schools will have student assemblies on the topic.

Frank Hanna-Williams, executive director of the Tillamook Family Counseling Center, said fighting depression is “about learning how to connect with people.”

Often, people can find support from key people in their life, such as friends or a pastor, he said.

The Tillamook Family Counseling Center offers 24-hour depression support at 503-842-8201.

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