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Parents of young suicide victim reach out

By: Jenna Nielsen Journal Staff Writer
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Gail Beeman’s head is full of statistics. The number of suicides in Nevada County in the last 12 months — 24. The number of people in the greater Sacramento area who have died by suicide in the last 10 years — more than 4,000. And the number of individuals who have been killed from falling or jumping from the Foresthill Bridge since it was built in 1973 — 46 (at the last unofficial count). The mother of 20-year-old Christopher Beeman, who fell to his death from the Foresthill Bridge on June 13, 2004, is taking action to help some of those numbers come down. Three years after leading the effort to install telephone call boxes that provide 24-hour crisis counseling to aid despondent people in finding help, Beeman is reaching out to local schools to provide students with information on depression and the signs of suicide. Beeman is also starting a support group for family and friends who have lost a loved one to suicide. “It astounded me to learn that there have been 24 suicides in the county in the last 24 months,” Beeman said. “That puts us at No. 2 in the nation per capita.” The telephone call boxes were installed in February. Beeman spurred Placer County officials to action after she left her own message on the bridge, with tear-off strips of paper containing phone numbers for crisis counseling. She mounted a personal drive to convince authorities that it was time to install phones. Chris Beeman was on the phone with his girlfriend but he lost the connection and jumped moments later. The phones, with instructions in both Spanish and English, are located in weatherproof boxes under signs that inform passersby that crisis counseling is available and “there is hope.” County supervisors considered installing a mesh fence in the mid-1990s but decided the $700,000 cost was too great. They also have rejected putting up a net, fence or raising the nearly five-foot railing, in part because a barrier would interfere with the views of the American River Canyon and surrounding foothills. The county contracts with Suicide Prevention Crisis Line, which provides trained emergency support to callers on the Foresthill Bridge and throughout Placer County. The line receives anywhere from 350 to 400 calls per month from around the county, said Lynn Tarrant, assistant director of the Placer County Adult System of Care. “I think it’s really important for individuals to feel comfortable asking for assistance because asking for mental health assistance carries a stigma,” she said. “What we can do as a community is support people through their emotional difficulties and make them aware that they can seek help and that people can and do recover from feelings of hopelessness and feeling of loss in life. I think whatever we can do to promote that helps people reach out in their darkest hour.” Tarrant said financial hardships may be pushing people who have never been in such circumstances into depression. “If the person doesn’t have real strong coping skills or financial support, they may be suffering financial losses,” she said. “When family and friends see this occurring, keep checking in and if you see any signs (of suicidal risk), call us.” The county also has an ACCESS line for anyone with thoughts of harming themselves. Calls to that line result in 2,000 assessments for people with suicidal thoughts or other mental-health related issues each year. Tarrant points out that friends and family members can call these numbers if they are concerned about their loved ones. Not dismissing a person’s thoughts is key to preventing suicide, Tarrant said. “If someone says they’re hopeless, take that seriously, don’t just go, ‘Oh, come on, you’ll be fine,’” she said. “Really ask them what they mean by that and encourage them to get help.” Beeman said she has learned over the past several years that suicide is a moment-to-moment decision. “Add alcohol or drugs to a depressing situation and that is going to put someone in a state they’re not normally in,” Beeman said. “If your son or daughter breaks up with their girlfriend or boyfriend that is a huge thing for them. If you have to stay up all night with them, stay up all night with them because the next day they are not going to feel the same.” The support group will be held the first Monday of every month starting Aug. 4 at the Higgins Lions Community Center in Lake of the Pines. Beeman is hoping to draw residents from the Auburn, Loomis and Grass Valley area. “We feel like it’s our turn to help others,” Beeman said. “There is a bigger need than I realized and my push is to get the information out there.” The Journal’s Gus Thomson and the Associated Press Contributed to this report. The Journal’s Jenna Nielsen can be reached at jennan@goldcountrymedia.com or comment on this story at auburnjournal.com.