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New suicide prevention program targets youths in Sonoma County

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Aurora Santa Rosa Hospital, a local inpatient psychiatric facility, is partnering with a national youth suicide prevention organization to help curb what the group calls the “silent epidemic” of teen suicide.

Aurora staff will be trained by The Jason Foundation to coordinate anti-suicide education and outreach efforts in the region, said Clark Flatt, founder and president of the nonprofit Hendersonville, Tenn., foundation.

Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for young people ages 10 to 24, behind car accidents and other unintentional injuries, Flatt said Thursday, citing 2014 data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The reason there isn’t more prevention is there is not enough awareness that it’s a problem among youth,” he said at a hospital event that drew representatives from local schools and nonprofit mental health organizations from Sonoma and Mendocino counties.

Nationally, an average of 100 youths take their lives every week, Flatt said. He referred to youth suicide as a silent epidemic because not enough is being done to prevent it or to educate the public about how widespread a problem it is. In California, he said, suicide is the third-leading cause of death for young people ages 10 to 24, behind unintentional injuries and homicides.

Flatt started The Jason Foundation after his 16-year-old son Jason killed himself using Flatt’s .38-caliber snub-nosed pistol, which he had kept locked until Jason was 14. During his presentation, Flatt described how he found his son dead in his bedroom in the summer of 1997.

He said he missed a number of “warning signs” that would have made a difference at the time. Leading up to his death, Jason began showing anger, his grades started declining, he began pulling away from his friends and separating himself from the things he loved to do, Flatt said.

None of these things is a sure sign that a youth is suicidal, Flatt said.

“But it does mean something is going on in your son or daughter’s life that needs to be addressed,” he said.

Under the partnership, two Aurora staff members, trained by the foundation, will do outreach, training and education in the local community. The outreach program will target educators, service providers, parents and youth about the warning signs and prevalence of youth suicide.

The training and education is free to the community and is paid for by Signature Healthcare Services, Aurora’s parent organization. The foundation is funded through its contracts with a handful of health care providers, including Acadia Healthcare and HCA Healthcare.

David Drum, Aurora’s business development director, said the team at Aurora is the foundation’s only affiliate in Northern California. He said trained staff have already done a presentation at Windsor High School.

Chandra Gonsales, program manager for Mendocino County-based Redwood Community Crisis Center, said such training and education gives community members access to tools they need to identify at-risk youth.

“I love this movement of outreach and education, and letting our communities know what’s going on so that they can advocate for change,” said Gonsales, whose organization operates mental health crisis centers for young people in Ukiah and Fort Bragg.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @renofish.

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