Milpitas sets new suicide prevention policy – The Mercury Newsadmin
On occasion, items come before Milpitas City Council that are not just good policy, but that resonate with people deeply and personally. Items that dim divisions and remind us of our humanity and mutual interdependence. The suicide prevention policy brought forth by Vice Mayor Marsha Grilli, and passed at the June 19 council meeting, was one such policy.
Between 2007 and 2016, 45 Milpitas residents died by suicide in Santa Clara County. Multiple of those years, more people died by suicide than in car accidents in Milpitas. And when you consider the facts that suicide is the 10th leading cause of the death in the nation (45,000 people annually), is the 2nd leading cause of death among young people ages 10-24, and that for every one suicide there are 25 attempts, the scale of this crisis comes into sharp focus.
Like so many others, the tragedy of suicide or suicidal thoughts of loved ones is incredibly personal for us. One of this letter’s authors, Marsha Grilli, and her family’s lives were forever changed by the loss of her sister, Sharon, to suicide. Marsha quickly discovered that the stigma around this issue is so profound that many chose to avoid her and her family rather than discuss their loss. This isolation, compounded by the disorientingly numerous unanswered questions Sharon left behind, was devastating. Another author of this letter, Paul Escobar, whose coalition efforts in San Jose with Councilman Raul Peralez inspired the Milpitas policy, lost a dear friend last year to suicide and his mother attempted to take her life in 2016.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, every suicide leaves behind an average of 100 people who are affected by it.
Just how deeply affected some in Milpitas have been by suicide was on clear and moving display on June 19. A courageous young man shared his struggles with suicidal ideation during his junior year in high school, and urged the council to act. Councilman Anthony Phan discussed his personal struggle with suicidal thoughts; his experience with hospitalization, his recovery and his continued challenges with suicidal ideation. One of the most striking moments was when Kathy Tran of the Silicon Valley Young Democrats (a member of the San Jose coalition) asked all who were in support of the policy to please stand; no one in the auditorium remained seated.
The stories shared at the June 19 council meeting were powerful, the connection and support in the room palpable. They showed the power of civic leaders speaking openly about difficult, emotional and personal challenges, and the healing that can facilitate. The vote by the council was in unanimous support.
The Milpitas policy, at its core, is about de-stigmatization, education and communication. The policy is action-oriented and takes multiple approaches. It will create a task force that will develop, implement and evaluate public education efforts (including a crisis response plan), mental health screenings, grief support, Mental Health First Aid classes, media response criteria,and other mental health and suicide prevention resources. With stigma and lack of awareness being such significant challenges, the Milpitas policy is an important tool to foster understanding and compassion among the community–and, ultimately, to save lives.
The suffering caused by deaths by suicide and suicidal thoughts, and the pain of those left behind are preventable. The leaders of Milpitas realized that their city has a role to play, and they have responded to the call unequivocally and without hesitation.
We urge that the other cities in the county similarly take note and take action.
Paul A. Escobar, Vice President, The Bay Area Municipal Elections Committee
Interim President, SJ Downtown Residents Association
Milpitas Vice Mayor Marsha Grilli
Milpitas Councilman Bob Nunez