Suicide attempts rise in Federal Way

It is supposed to be the holiday season, but signs of depression and suicidal thoughts have shown themselves locally.

“This is the joyous season, but it’s not joyous for everyone,” Franciscan Health System spokesman Gale Robinette said.

In the past three months, reports of suicide attempts have become more noticeable in Federal Way, according to the police crime log. Though there is no way to determine exactly what spurned the incidents, some police reports reference financial troubles. Others mention depression and still more note marriage difficulties. However, it cannot be said for certain that the increased number of reported attempts signifies a rise in suicides. The trend may be due to a larger willingness to seek help.

Federal Way police do not specifically track suicide attempts, spokesman Raymond Bunk said. The department instead tracks involuntary hospital or mental ward committals. Not all of these are the result of suicidal thoughts. People are also involuntarily committed due to extensive consumption of alcohol, drug use or mental illnesses, for example.

But the police log, which documents police cases, has illustrated a rise in suicide attempts. Seven attempts or calls indicating a will to harm oneself were received by police in the five-day time span of Nov. 19 through Nov. 23. One man told police he wished to harm himself by overdosing or slitting his throat, according to the police log. Another woman reported she has suffered from depression since a recent move and is experiencing difficulties in her marriage, according to the log. Yet another man appeared at St. Francis Hospital, where he told staff he wanted to commit suicide with the help of a semi-truck. The man left the hospital before completing paperwork to be voluntarily admitted to the mental health unit.

In early November, a woman reported wishing to perform suicide due to her financial troubles, according to the police log. In mid-November, two people were reported missing. The police log described them as self-proclaimed prophets, who may be suicidal.

The increase may be due to the upcoming holidays, Robinette said. Typically, St. Francis Hospital sees an increase in voluntary committals just after the holiday season begins, he said. Most people who check themselves into the in-patient center experience major depression, bipolar disease or an acute mental illness, Robinette said. Many feel there is nobody to talk to and nowhere to go for help, he said.

“This holiday season is really difficult for a lot of folks,” Robinette said. “This time of year at St. Francis, just right after the holidays, you start seeing more people showing up with symptoms of depression and that type of thing.”

St. Francis offers 10 rooms for patients suffering from major depression and other harmful disorders. The hospital serves roughly 630 patients a year, Robinette said. An increase due to the slumping economy and upcoming holidays has not yet been seen, he said. But it is early to say the trend will not occur this year. Counselors, psychiatrists and social workers all offer their services at St. Francis. Those that check in do so on their own accord.

“You have to be open to treatment, want it and say I’m open to do this,” Robinette said.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a 24-hour service sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, has experienced a 28.9 percent increase in the number of calls it receives over the past year, SAMHSA spokesman Brad Stone said. The lifeline assists 50,867 callers per month, he said. But Stone is unsure whether the elevated numbers reflect an increase in suicidal thoughts. Word about the lifeline has spread since its incorporation in 2005, he said.

“In terms of the lifeline, part of what you’re seeing is not necessarily a rise because of seasonal changes,” Stone said. “It may be explained in large part because more people are hearing about the lifeline and taking advantage of its services.”

Lifeline personnel talk to callers, assess the danger they pose to themselves and provide links to local services, he said.

“There are a lot of things for people to do other than feel alone and like there is nowhere to turn,” Robinette said.

Check it out:

Following is a list of agencies readily available to assist anyone suffering from depression or feeling suicidal:

• Crisis Clinic of Seattle/ King County: a 24-hour crisis line

(866) 427-4747 (4CRISIS)

(206) 461-3222

• St. Francis Hospital, 34515 Ninth Ave. S., Federal Way: offers a mental health unit

(253) 944-8100 from Pierce County

(253) 835-8100 from King County

• National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: a national 24-hour crisis line with the ability to provide references to local crisis centers

1-800-273-8255 (TALK)

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