‘There is support out there’: Clackamas County working to prevent middle-aged and older adult suicide

CLACKAMAS, Ore. — Oregon’s suicide rate is soaring, and sitting high above the national average.

Middle-aged and older adults here and around the country are taking their own lives at higher rates.

But there is a silver lining: There are resources to help bring that statistic down.

A campaign to show people they’re enough and they matter is just one prevention effort Clackamas County is channeling energy into.

Clackamas County Health, Housing and Human Services Suicide Prevention Coordinator Galli Murray says the county is being intentional with helping middle-aged and older adults.

“Sixty-eight percent of the deaths in the nation from suicide last year were between ages 35-65,” Murray said.

RELATED: Survey: Oregonians are more likely to think about suicide – but also more willing to prevent it

Particularly, deaths occurred at higher rates in middle-age white men. National statistics show seniors 85 and up had the second highest rate.

"Just being that age group they are at risk, and if you add in other factors – loneliness, isolation, lack of resources – the risk for suicide goes up,” Murray said.

The county and their partners are working to raise awareness and provide education and resources to those who are struggling and feel alone in their suffering.

Those working to prevent suicide in Oregon say the unique rural nature of the state means it is much easier for people to get disconnected from social supports, community ties, and mental health services – which are chronically lacking.

"If we can get to those folks and infuse them with hope, connection and recovery, those people go on to be resilient individuals who are healthy and leading lives they want to live,” Murray added.

Kati Tilton runs programs for aging adults and those with disabilities.

"There is support out there. And we want people to feel like they can make those connections, so whether it’s through Lines for Life, aging and disability resource connection, or through a neighbor, we just want people to feel like they can make those connections,” Tilton said.

Tilton says social connection is key. Older folks may never reach out for help, as the stigma of mental health and suicide is so ingrained in that generation. Data shows baby boomers have historically low rates of using mental health services.

It’s important anyone who has contact with an older adult or someone experiencing disabilities is aware and understands the factors that indicate someone is at risk of taking their own life. It’s also critical we all understand the resources available and how to put someone in touch with services.

“A lot of time you don’t know what you don’t know, until you have to know. And even then, you don’t know,” Tilton added.

The county wants to make it easier for people to learn what’s out there and access those services. Services like Lines for Life Senior Loneliness Line.

“The senior loneliness line is designed to lessen social isolation, alienation, disconnect of people from their communities,” Lines for Life senior services coordinator Bill Fitzpatrick said.

For every person lost to suicide, the CDC says there are an estimated 25 suicide attempts.

Fitzpatrick says the senior loneliness line is an evidence-based practice that saves lives, and the barriers to using it are almost non-existent. All you need is access to a phone.

“We are in a very unique time in history where there are more services of higher quality than have ever existed,” Fitzpatrick said.

If you or someone you know over 55 years old who lives in Clackamas County is struggling, please reach out to the senior loneliness line at 503-200-1633. Lines for Life volunteers and staff can handle calls related to seniors.

More resources

Help is available for community members struggling from a mental health crisis or suicidal thoughts. Suicide is preventable.

The Multnomah County Mental Health Call Center is available 24 hours a day at 503-988-4888.

If you or someone you know needs help with suicidal thoughts or is otherwise in an immediate mental health crisis, please visit Cascadia or call 503-963-2575. Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare has an urgent walk-in clinic, open from 7 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., 7 days a week. Payment is not necessary.

Lines for Life is also available 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Information about the Portland Police Bureau’s Behavioral Health Unit (BHU) and additional resources can be found here.

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