Nevada County town hall seeks to educate, discuss suicide prevention |

Nevada County town hall seeks to educate, discuss suicide prevention

Key numbers

If you are considering suicide, please call:

National Suicide Prevention hotline:1-800-273-8255

Nevada County emergency hotline: 530-265-5811

The Trevor Project hotline (for LGBTQ individuals): 1-866-488-7386

Welcome Home Vets, Grass Valley (for veterans): 530-272-3300


To see Dylan Tellesen’s artwork go to

In the early 2000s, Nevada County had a suicide problem.

During 2004, the rate of suicides was much higher than the California average at 15.8 per 100,000 people, and in 2007, 24 people took their own lives in the county. In 2006, Nevada County had the most suicides per capita in the state according to Mike Bratton, founder of the MEB II Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to educating and preventing local suicides.

Since then things changed, said Bratton. Nevada County has fallen outside the top 10 counties for suicide rates in the state.

“We’ve made tremendous headway in this community because there’s been a lot done,” said the nonprofit founder while sitting next to six other county leaders in suicide prevention at a KVMR town hall forum about suicide on Tuesday.

In the 2011-12 school year, schools in Grass Valley, Tahoe and Truckee began implementing mental health screenings from What’s Up Wellness to review the wellbeing of students. The organization also has mindfulness groups, expressive arts projects and free trainings for people to better understand how to discuss suicide with at-risk individuals.

Jennifer Winders, community resource coordinator for the organization, explained suicide is not highest among teens, but it is rising.

“Overall, those 85 and up have one of the highest rates of suicide,” she said, referring to state and national statistics. The next largest group include individuals in their late 40s and early 50s, she said.

Bratton started his organization in 2006 after his son killed himself. The nonprofit hosts annual Turkey Trot races to amplify discussions around mental health and suicide. When the races began in 2007, 600 people participated, he said. Last year, that number increased to 3,000.


Many town hall panelists were promoting something they have long been doing: starting conversations about suicide and mental health, and stripping the shame associated with these topics.

“I do feel like mental health stigma plays a big part in this issue (of suicide),” said Shellee Sepko, program director of What’s Up Wellness. Sepko said that just “being willing to ask the question, ‘are you thinking of killing yourself?’” to struggling individuals may be a good start.

Barbara Coffman, director of the counseling service organization Anew Day, said listening to those who have suicidal thoughts is beneficial.

“Just really let the people talk,” Coffman tells individuals answering the organization’s suicide hotline. That frequently helps people feel better, she said.

Dylan Tellesen, an artist from Chico who has struggled with suicide, and includes it in his work, agreed.

“I think more of myself as a conversation starter,” he said.

Tellesen’s artwork of people who recently completed suicide were scattered around KVMR. A portrait of Anthony Bourdain, the famous chef who took his life last year, hung behind the panelists.

The artist also hung an incomplete portrait of a woman named Cheryl. The painter said he was asked to draw Cheryl by her husband, who requested the painting after the woman took her own life.

“He had not spoken to anyone about suicide or about her suicide besides a therapist or family,” said Tellesen of the husband. The painter became friends with the man, and had him and his children paint layers on the portrait of Cheryl, he said.

While panelists believe discussion and knowledge about suicide is critical, some, like Bratton, are concerned heightening awareness will normalize suicides, making them more common.

“Our fear was that we don’t want to sensationalize it,” he said.


The recent suicide declines in Nevada County may be due to the recent onset of institutional support, said Curtis McMullan.

The clinical supervisor with Nevada County Behavioral Health said emergency departments, schools, health agencies and nonprofits have all become more aware of the problem. McMullan said he’s evaluated over 1,000 individuals with suicidal thoughts, and done much to help families and friends recover after suicide occurs.

“It’s important for us all to work together,” he said.

There are many possible interventions after someone says they want to take their own life, said Coffman. This includes enlisting support from loved ones.

“You can build safety plans sometimes,” she said.

It’s good to be aware of warning signs of suicide, said McMullan. These can include feelings of hopelessness, isolation, being a burden to others, unbearable pain, and the desire to complete suicide.

McMullan often asks one question that helps reframe how suicidal individuals see their world.

“Do you want to end your life or do you want to end the way your life is going?”

Contact Sam Corey at 530-477-4219 or at

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