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County suicide rate above state’s

With Nevada County’s suicide rate running much higher than the state average, community leaders are focusing more efforts on suicide prevention.

In the latest example, the Nevada County Community Leadership Institute held a one-day summit to tackle the problem. The county’s suicide rate was 15.8 per 100,000 in 2004, compared with 9.7 per 100,000 statewide, according to the latest figures provided by the institute.

“I heard a disturbing frequency for responses to (suicide) attempts” upon arriving in the county less than two years ago, said Grass Valley Fire Chief Jim Marquis, who chaired Thursday’s summit.



Speaking for the first time publicly about his son Michael’s suicide last year, Grass Valley insurance agent Mike Bratton placed a human touch on the statistics.

“Every parent needs to be aware, every parent needs to study and learn about this,” Bratton told the crowd of community leaders and mental health professionals. “We never, ever imagined something like this could happen.




“You don’t wish this on anyone,” Bratton said. “I wake up in the middle of the night still and I can’t believe it.”

Fighting through tears but persevering, Bratton talked about his bright and motivated son who grew up in a nurturing and church-going household. But Michael, 25, had not recovered from a previous breakup with his girlfriend and was probably more depressed than anyone realized, Bratton said.

“Now our mission is to come up with ideas to prevent this,” Bratton said. “We need education at a younger age to let people know there’s a place to go.”

One idea came from Dr. Peter Van Houten of the Sierra Family Medical Clinic on the San Juan Ridge.

As part of the clinic’s approach to medicine, mental health questionnaires are now routine for patients. “Just like your blood pressure is taken,” the forms are used to spot potential problems, Van Houten said.

Although Bratton’s talk focused on youth, Van Houten said the groups most prone to suicide are men more than 65 with health problems, as well as the mentally ill.

Dr. Doug Crisp, medical director for the Nevada County Behavioral Health Department, said many people who attempt suicide are actually calling out for help, but many are successful by accident.

People at risk for suicide will “isolate themselves and start giving things away,” Crisp said.

Suicide attempt survivor Heather Nowacki said school teachers and others should watch for habits in youths like “self-cutting,” which she did to herself. (See related story).

“I know I was not the only one,” Nowacki said. “I had friends who cut themselves.”

She also sympathized with Bratton about his son and said red flags should go up around relationship problems among youths.

“At a young age, love issues get blown out of proportion,” she said.

Many at the conference said education of the entire community will be key to cut the county’s suicide rate by 50 percent, the goal of group who held the summit. They hope it leads to the creation of a local suicide task force.

Besides Marquis, the four others who took on suicide as part of their “hot topic” work group at the leadership institute include Debby Sultan, Elise Dailey-McIver, Yolanda Cook and Lacey Elliott.

If you want to help them, you can call Cook at 477-1382 or Elliott at 477-5234.

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To contact Senior Staff Writer Dave Moller, e-mail davem@theunion.com or call 477-4237.


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