Psychiatrist: Expect rash of Auburn-area suicidal behavior to linger

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By: Gus Thomson Journal Staff Writer
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With three dramatic public incidents over the last four days in Auburn, a Sutter Health psychiatrist is advising extra vigilance of suicidal behavior in the community. Dr. James Margolis said Thursday that suicides tend to spur epidemics of similar behavior as the level of awareness is raised. That can happen when one incident or more occurs and filters out into the public consciousness. The level of awareness can even come from a fictional source. Margolis said a good example would be the release of the movie “Romeo & Juliet” and a rash of young people taking their lives that followed. But the three incidents in the Auburn area were all too real. With a faltering economy leaving people without jobs and homes, those losses tend to foster suicidal behavior, Margolis said. “This is where the community steps in – where it’s aware and proactive,” Margolis said. “Auburn needs to be very vigilant for the next week or so.” Area residents could be cognizant of the two types of people who are most at risk – and they’re polar opposites, he said. On one end, there are people who say they are suicidal. They need to be taken seriously, Margolis said. On the other end of the spectrum, but equally at risk, are the people who have suffered substantial losses and should be candidates for suicidal behavior – but aren’t talking about their problems, he said. “Both need to be seen by crisis counselors,” Margolis said. The Foresthill Bridge has been the scene of at least 44 deaths from falls or suicidal leaps. The latest suicide off the bridge was Tuesday. Margolis said the community should be particularly watchful there during the coming days for potential jumpers. Chris Bunnell is an Auburn health care worker who lost her 19-year-old son, Tracy, to suicide in 1991. Her work since then has been to establish a suicide prevention hotline and keep it funded. The phone numbers for the hotline are: Auburn (530) 885-2300; Lincoln (916) 645-8866; Roseville (916) 773-3111; and Sacramento (916) 368-3111. Bunnell raises funds for the hotline in the summer with a softball tournament at Regional Park during the last weekend of July, and she has worked with surviving families of suicide victims to lobby the county to place suicide prevention phones on the Foresthill Bridge for distraught people to use. They were put in place in 2005. “It’s been a discouraging last couple of days,” Bunnell said, noting Tuesday’s death. “It’s not always fail proof but our hope is that the phones will save lives.” Chaplain Jim Milne, of the Placer County Law Enforcement Chaplaincy, said the rash of suicidal behavior can be tied to changes in even simple things like the weather or the season – and in recent times, tied to economics. “People lose their perspective, they lose their logic,” Milne said. “They get into the fear mode and when they are, their logic is messed up.” Milne said that other people can’t judge those with suicidal tendencies. He compares their position to watching sports from the stands and not understanding what it’s like to be on the field. “We can’t judge these people – we can’t judge their hearts,” Milne said. “I leave it in the hands of God to judge.” The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at Suicide prevention hotlines Auburn (530) 885-2300 Lincoln (916) 645-8866 Roseville (916) 773-3111 Sacramento (916) 368-3111