Zero Suicides: Kern County, Eyewitness News breaking silence to save lives


Suicide has touched just about all of our lives, and yet almost none of us talk about it.

Today, that changes.

At Eyewitness News, we are breaking the silence.

All this week, we'll be discussing suicide and mental health awareness.

It is our goal to get our community talking about the growing issue of suicide.

Because for long suicide was labeled as taboo and covered with a stigma, few dared to dig through. Only certain people were trained to spot the warning signs and do something to stop it.

The goal of this initiative is to get rid of the stigma, get everyone trained and keep everyone alive.

"Zero Suicides" is a countywide campaign. The goal is for there to be no suicides in our communities. Leading this charge is Kern County Behavioral Health and Recovery Services.

"It is probably one of the most preventable diseases or disorders or events in the United States that kills people," said Bill Walker, director of KBHRS.

Suicide isn't just a problem in our country. It's a problem right here at home.

"Last year, we lost 130 people in Kern County to suicide," said Ellen Eggert, a program support supervisor at KBHRS. "This year, we're up to 88."

Those aren't statistics. Those are people.

Ruby McNinch lost her son Christopher to suicide. He was 30 years old.

She would've done anything to stop him but knows she can't, so instead she focuses on preventing others from feeling her pain.

"There is help, and there is hope. People don't know that," McNinch said. "They're afraid to say I'm depressed, I'm anxious, you know. Any kind of mental disorder, we're afraid to talk about. And we shouldn't be, because like anything else there's help, and there's hope."

So how do we help? How do we accomplish the goal of Zero Suicides? First, we need to change the way we approach suicide prevention.

"So much about suicide is prevention after someone has already made an attempt, and if they actually have taken their life then it's over," said Walker.

This is why the first goal of Zero Suicides is to make everyone in our community suicide aware -- specifically, training for doctors, cops, teachers, anyone who frequently interacts with the community.

"You don't have to work in the mental health field to save a life. All of us, you don't need to be a professional to save a life," Eggert said.

In order for this to work, we all need to be able to spot the warning signs and do something about it. We all need to buy in.

That's why the second goal is to remove the stigma surrounding suicide. This gives people permission to ask if someone is suicidal and gives others permission to answer honestly.

"You need to know you can ask for help if something is wrong up here. We need to erase the stigma and talk about suicide," Eggert said.

Simply put, the first step to fixing a problem is acknowledging there is one. We can't fix our suicide problem if we aren't willing to talk about it.

So this is us starting the conversation.

Kern is the first county in California to attempt the Zero Suicides initiative. County officials know it's bold and ambitious to rid the county of suicide, but they also say the only way to fix the problem is to be bold and ambitious.

Our Zero Suicides coverage continues Monday on Eyewitness News at 10 on FOX 58.

We'll show you how suicide survivors are using their experience to help save lives.

Tuesday on Eyewitness News Mornings on Fox 58, we'll let you know how you can get training right now to help save the life of someone considering suicide.

As part of our efforts to help with the Zero Suicides initiative, we want to also provide people with access to resources.

If you, a loved one, or a friend is having suicidal thoughts, or if you even think they could harm themselves or others, call the suicide prevention hotline at (800) 991-5272.

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