In the United States alone, an average of 123 people commit suicide each day. And for every suicide that actually occurs, 25 additional suicide attempts are made.
This is a growing problem; one that will only increase if we continue to keep the topic of suicide cloaked in shadows, unable to fully discuss it and approach it with the level of depth, compassion, and understanding that it truly deserves.
On the evening of June 19, at the last Milpitas City Council meeting, the five council members — Councilmember Bob Nuñez, Councilmember Garry Barbadillo, Councilmember Anthony Phan, Vice Mayor Marsha Grilli, and Mayor Rich Tran — voted unanimously to approve the adoption of a resolution and implementation of a Suicide Prevention Policy.
This past April, prior to the formation of this policy, Vice Mayor Marsha Grilli, who lost a sister to suicide in 2012, read an Op-Ed piece in the Mercury News. Written by Paul Escobar (BAYMEC), Kathy Tran (Silicon Valley Young Democrats), and Victor Ojakian (former Mayor of Palo Alto), the Op-Ed served as a plea to the San Jose City Council to move forward on a Suicide Prevention Policy. After reading this piece, Vice Mayor Grilli started to become more and more aware of other cities in the area that had implemented the same policies.
“This last couple of weeks, with the deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain… those are hard weeks for people that are survivors of suicide,” said Grilli. “Because you realize what families are going through, and the dark days they have ahead. And you really want to reach out and do something to help.”
In introducing the agenda item, the Vice Mayor opened up about her own experiences. “No one ever really talked to us about suicide. And I ended up at some support groups at Valley Medical,” said Grilli. “And one thing that spoke to me when I ended up there was the fact that there were several families from Milpitas in those support groups; and I knew nothing about their losses. Because it’s something that we just don’t talk about. And it’s something we should be talking about.”
Recreation Services Manager Renee Lorentzen presented some slides, one of which showed information gathered by the Milpitas Police Department. In 2017, the data showed Milpitas had 9 suicide attempts, and 5 deaths by suicide. Back in 2014, the number of suicide attempts was up at 20, with 5 deaths by suicide as well. And statistics from the Santa Clara County Department of Health showed that males between the ages of 45-64 are more likely to commit suicide than other population groups.
Pastor Robert Mize came up to address the room at one point, speaking of the challenges he has faced over the years to rally support for and draw attention to suicide prevention for youth. He has since teamed up with Nicole Steward, Manager of Family Community and Engagement for the Milpitas Unified School District, to find ways of supporting students who might be struggling. Each year in the United States, there are 4,600 young people, ages 10 – 24, who commit suicide.
“If this is a problem in our city, I want to do something about it,” said Pastor Mize. “One of the things we can do to get rid of the stigma is to train as many people as possible to work with others who are struggling, until they can hand them over to somebody, a professional, who would be able to help them more.”
At the council meeting, many other people came up to the podium, speaking of loved ones whom they’ve lost to suicide. Some even spoke candidly of their own struggles with suicidal thoughts.
One young man, a boy scout who had been a part of the flag salute earlier in the evening, bravely and spontaneously stepped up to the microphone and told the room: “I have experienced suicidal thoughts that were pretty prevalent in my junior year. I was fortunate enough to have friends to help me through that period of time. I know there are a lot of people out there who don’t have people out there to support them or help them through this time of crisis. I think that this would help a lot of people get through tough times and help to greatly lower the suicide rate.”
Right before the vote was to occur, Councilmember Anthony Phan also shed some light upon his own struggles: “I want to thank everybody who came up for their courage to share something that’s very personal. And I want to thank Vice Mayor Grilli for her leadership on this issue. I know it’s been a difficult period, and I’m here for you. We’re all here for you. I think that’s something that goes beyond policy. To say that we’re there,” said Phan. “Before I got on the Council, in the summer of 2016, I was checked into Suicide Watch. Depression has been something that I’ve battled in my early adolescence, and I still battle with it today.”
Phan spoke of the importance of finding ways to add meaning to everyday life, mentioning that accomplishing good public policy was among the things that kept him going.
Perhaps one of the evening’s most touching moments was when Kathy Tran, of Silicon Valley Young Democrats, asked those seated in the council chambers to stand if they were in support of a Suicide Prevention Policy, and the entire room got up to their feet.
After the unanimous vote to move forward on the Suicide Prevention Policy, Marsha Grilli expressed her thoughts on what had been accomplished:
“The unanimous vote by the Council reflects the understanding that there is a growing awareness of Suicide and mental health illnesses as a major public health problem. Actions such as this policy reflect the values of our council and community. Rather than saying we care about the quality of life of all residents, we are taking actions that support that statement,” wrote the Vice Mayor in an email. “This policy opens a conversation in our community. The stigma of mental health illnesses and suicide cause people and families suffering to stay silent. We need to give a voice and resources to those suffering.”
Grilli also mentioned that a Community Task Force was going to be formed in order to “collaborate, develop, and implement strategies” that will support the residents of Milpitas through challenging times.
Councilmember Phan summed it up best during the meeting when he said, “It can affect anybody. It will affect anybody. I challenge all of you to reach out to somebody that you haven’t spoken to in a while. Ask them how they’re doing, say something nice. It could go a long way.”
If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 across the United States: 1-800-273-8255