Following more than a year of steady work, the Gig Harbor and Key Peninsula Suicide Prevention Coalition celebrated the installation of 24 suicide prevention signs on the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in March.
Bob Anderson, a member of the coalition and a director on the KP Community Council, spearheaded the effort. His inspiration came from a visit to Portland where similar signs are posted on the Vista Bridge.
“The signs are designed to cause the pause that can save a life,” Anderson said. They have messages such as “Life is worth living. There is help,” and “You are not alone. Make the call.”
Funding for the project came from a grant through Pierce County that also included support for presentations by suicide survivor Kevin Hines last year (“Suicide Prevention Coalition: Making a Difference,” KP News, November 2018).
The coalition is now working on getting state funds to install netting and barriers on the bridge.
Anderson said there are extra signs they hope to post on the KP and that the county may produce signs for use in other areas. Anne Nesbit, a member of the coalition and the KP Fire Department prevention and public information officer, said she is coordinating with the Key Pen Parks to find locations for them.
The coalition was established seven years ago in response to suicide attempts by local students. Although the initial focus was on youth, suicide affects all ages and the coalition expanded its outreach.
“We deliver presentations to groups and also strategize on how to get the word out about suicide education and mental health awareness,” Nesbit said. “We have a lot of social workers, school and hospital personnel, community members, and we’ve had a couple of Gig Harbor High School students come because they have a youth suicide support group there.”
The coalition offers three-hour training sessions to prepare individuals to identify those at risk of suicide and to help them get help. It also offers speakers for a 45-minute “Talk Saves Lives” presentation on suicide prevention.
“And out here on the Key, we now are in the sixth, seventh and eighth grade classes talking about mental health,” Nesbit said. “We talk about how important it is to accept and appreciate yourself, about self-care and suicide awareness.”
Suicide is the second leading cause of death for teenagers aged 15 to 19 in Washington state, according to the Healthy Youth School Survey conducted in 2018. “That also shows that 61 percent of seniors in our district feel there’s no adult to talk to if they’re down and depressed and 40 percent were so depressed for a two-week period that it made them want to stop doing things,” Nesbit said. “That’s significant because it shows the problem really is here and is holding steady.”
Depression and anxiety are common and treatable conditions marked by persistent feelings of sadness and helplessness, and can lead to substance abuse and thoughts of suicide.
Nesbit said anyone experiencing these feelings or with questions should call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK or text “home” to 741741. Call 1-800-TEENLINK to talk to a caring teenager. “They can also call me,” she said, at 253-884-2222.
“The stigma about mental illness and suicide is still there but I think people are starting to talk more, which is fantastic because the bottom line of the workshops we host is that conversation and human connection is what people with suicide ideation need,” she said. “They need somebody to ask them what’s wrong and listen to them.”
The Gig Harbor and Key Peninsula Suicide Prevention Coalition meets 9 a.m. on the second Thursday of each month at Gig Harbor Fire District Headquarters at 10222 Bujacich Road NW. For more information, visit the coalition Facebook page. Bob Anderson also runs an informal group for those touched by suicide. Contact him at 253-753-3013 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information on the Healthy Youth Survey, go to www.askhys.net.