Seeking to lift the veil of secrecy that surrounds the subject of suicide, Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane shared her own tale of loss Monday, describing her husband Peter's death 20 months ago with more intimacy than some might expect before an audience of nearly 400.
But Zane said she wants to speak out -- as difficult as it is -- because so many others do not, reflecting the shame and cultural stigma that limits awareness and understanding of an issue that touches so many.
"We cannot prevent suicide if we don't talk about it," Zane said. "This is a preventable death in most cases. We have to end the silence."
Her presentation was part of a daylong symposium on suicide prevention organized by the Sonoma County chapter of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill designed to shed light on such issues as warning signs and interventions.
But the discussion also focused on the stunning prevalence of suicide in a culture more comfortable with looking the other way.
Nationally, about 100 people a day take their lives, federal officials say.
In Sonoma County, 69 people died of self-inflicted injuries last year, according to the county Coroner's Office. Twenty were women. Forty-nine were males. Six were under age 20.
And yet, health officials said, few people recognize suicide as the critical public health issue that it is.
To highlight the importance of prevention, the federal government on Monday announced it will boost staff by 50 percent at the national hotline -- 1-800-273-TALK. It also will provide $55.6 million for state and local programs, highlight Facebook features that link distressed users to counselors and begin public service announcements urging the public to seek help if they spot signs that someone is suicidal.
Presenters at the local conference, underwritten by the Lytton Band of Pomo Indians at the Glaser Center in Santa Rosa, underscored the importance of awareness.