ANTELOPE VALLEY – The suicide rates in the Antelope Valley are the highest in Los Angeles (LA) County at a percentage of 11.4, according to the LA County Department of Public Health.
Judy Cooperberg, executive director of Mental Health America (MHA) in the Antelope Valley, said there are a number of factors that contribute to the high rate. One of the major problems is the lack of resources available for those who are mentally ill, she said.
“People who have first breaks, they have situational depression, they have initial trauma, they don’t usually have access to immediate therapy or counseling, particularly if they don’t have any health insurance,” Cooperberg said.
She said that a lot of times depression will affect their ability to get out of bed, which affects their ability to go to work. Depression rates in the Antelope Valley are 17.1 percent, according to the LA County Department of Health.
Another contributing factor, for the Antelope Valley as well as all over the country, is economic pressure, said John Glover, an associate clinical social worker of Mental Health America. People are struggling to keep their homes and jobs, or are struggling to find a job, he said.
A man in Lancaster stood on a bridge Jan. 20 overlooking the freeway below him, and he considered jumping.
CHP Officer Michael Talbot, who was the first to arrive on scene, made contact with the man and set up a rapport. Sergeant John Rush of the Sheriff’s Department also talked to the man.
“He was just despondent because he was having some problems with his personal life,” Sgt. Rush said. “We talked about those and then he decided to get off the bridge and not jump.”
“We have to be honest with them from the beginning and let him know ‘hey I can help provide resources for you, I can tell you where to go, but I can’t get you a job,’” Sgt. Rush continued. “I can’t make your life better by getting you off the bridge, but we can certainly point you in the right direction… and that’s kind of what we did.”
Sgt. Rush said there was a moment when he thought the man would jump because he had made the sign of the cross right before he got off the bridge. He got off willingly, however, and got the help he needed.
“I can’t tell you how we did it,” said Sgt. Rush.
An average of one person kills themselves every 14.2 minutes, according to the American Association of Suicidology.
“If a person is going to do it, they’re going to do it,” Sgt. Rush said, “and if they’re not, they’re not.” The Antelope Valley has special circumstances that contribute to a higher rate of suicide, which is a higher population of military and their families, Glover said.
“The pressures that particular group of people experience are unique, and we have a higher concentration here in the Antelope Valley so mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder play a part,” Glover said.
According to the LA County Department of Public Health, an average of 18 veterans die by suicide each day.
Multiple deployments are a huge part of the 80 percent increase in suicides in the military, Cooperberg said.
“As you increase the number of deployments, you radically increase the potential for that to happen,” Glover said.
Although there have been news coverage of some veterans “who have actually gone more public with their demonstration of their mental health condition,” Glover said these are isolated incidences and should not cause fear or judgment on the military or their veterans.
“That’s an important point because there’s so much stigma to mental illness and mental health issues that when someone is dealing with depression in particular they have a much higher chance of harming themselves than anybody else,” Cooperberg said.
When you have anyone, whether they are in the military or not, commit suicide, their families are impacted, Glover said. And the resources families have are just as limited as the individuals who commit suicide, which causes a ripple effect in the community.
“The problem we have is where do we get that treatment,” Cooperberg said.
Cooperberg said she always emphasizes that the Antelope Valley has the greatest need with the least amount of resources.
The Antelope Valley has no psychiatric emergency care, no community health center that will provide no to low cost counseling, and no children or adolescent beds, she said.
The services the Antelope Valley does have are two Department of Health mental clinics that serve adults, as well as the Mental Health America (MHA) facility, Cooperberg said. However, both organizations are focused on helping people with severe mental illnesses.
“We serve people with persistent mental illness,” Cooperberg said. “Illnesses that have an impact on their functional abilities, their capabilities…the illnesses that have really stunted people’s growth in all aspects of their lives.”
By doing preventative and short term treatment, she said people won’t be so mired down by their illness.
“Diagnosis is not a destiny,” Glover said.
Cooperberg added that mental illness does not define a person.
“Despite whatever kind of illness a person has they can have a productive kind of life, and I believe that with all my heart and soul because I lived it,” Cooperberg said.