A very light agenda allowed the Ceres City Council last week to hear how widespread suicides are in the community and local efforts to curb the incidences of people taking their own lives.
Barbara Pearce Chiesa also addressed the council about the upcoming 13th annual “Out of the Darkness Community Walk” hosted by the local chapter of the American Federation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) set for Saturday, Oct. 22 in Modesto.
AFSP was set up by local grieving parents and spread to all 50 states. It raises funds to engage in research and educates others about the problem of suicide. The organization also makes available guest speakers to give a free 45-minute presentation titled, “Talk Saves Lives,” what Chiesa called Suicide Prevention 101. Volunteers and members also offer support to persons who have lost loved ones to suicide.
According to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), suicide is the 12th leading cause of death in the United States. In 2020, 45,979 Americans committed suicide and 1.2 million attempted suicide.
California experienced 4,144 documented cases of suicide in 2020, making it the 14th leading cause of death in the state. Sadly, suicide is the third leading cause of death of young people between the ages of 10 to 34 in the state. California ranks 44th out of 50 states in terms suicide rate.
Chiesa said that five times as many people in the country died by suicide in 2019 than in alcohol-related motor vehicles accidents.
Males are 3.9 times more likely to commit suicide than females.
“Suicide is similar to other things – it’s pretty grossly unreported actually so these numbers are pretty low because in many cases it’s difficult to determine from the cause of death whether intentional or accidental and most families understandably want to believe it was accidental rather than intentional,” said Chiesa.
“There’s one suicide a week in Stanislaus County,” she noted.
In the last known study of suicide rates in Stanislaus County performed in 2016, more county residents died by suicide than by homicide.
“It’s not something most people realize unless they happen to be one of those families,” said Chiesa, who moved with her family to Ceres when she was 11.
In Stanislaus County, between 2013 and 2016, the suicide rate increased among young people, she said, also noting that 725 emergency room visits and 234 non-fatal hospitalizations were recorded during 2014 involving patients who attempted suicide.
She and her two siblings lost their mother to suicide in 1988.
“In 1988 we didn’t really talk about suicide and we didn’t really know anybody else that this had happened to,” said Chiesa. “It was and will always be, I think, the saddest day of all of our lives. And there really wasn’t much in terms of resources. The coroner encouraged us to put her death notice in another county – because legally you had to list it – but in order to not bring shame to our family so we did. We had a very private small service and basically grieved in silence.”
In 2011, her 48-year-old brother killed himself and she called him “a wonderful person just like my mom. “The difference between 1988 and 2011 … was that there were resources.”
Chiesa read about the annual walk in Graceada Park – organized by four local moms who lost sons to suicide – and while participating found healing with meeting with others.
“For the first time there were hundreds of other suicide loss families there. People were crying. People were laughing. People were hugging. There were community resources and I think for the first time we really felt like we weren’t alone.”
That was the start of Chiesa’s involvement in local suicide prevention.
“It has been an important part of getting through what happens when a family experiences a loss of a loved one to suicide.”
She offered the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number at 1 (800) 273-TALK (8255) or call 988 for suicide and crisis lifeline.
Popular with younger people is the text line at 741741 to reach trained counselors.
Ceres Mayor Javier Lopez issued a proclamation declaring Sept. 4-10 as Suicide Prevention Week in Ceres. That proclamation encourages all residents to “take the time to inquire as to the wellbeing of their families, friends and neighbors and to genuinely convey their appreciation for their existence by any gesture they deem appropriate.”