A familiar face on the Twin Harbors is taking on a familiar and devastating issue.
Former state Rep. Lynn Kessler of Hoquiam has recently joined the advisory board for a newly formed suicide prevention organization that is based at the University of Washington.
The organization, “Forefront: Innovations in Suicide Prevention,” brings together suicide prevention experts, clinicians, students and loss survivors to advance big-picture changes in public policy, training and communication about mental health and suicide.
Kessler, who retired from the Legislature as House majority leader for the Democrats, said she was approached and asked to join, likely for her expertise in public policy, which she said the group would focus on.
She said the issue is important to her and the area because there have been “some pretty tragic suicides” on Grays Harbor. The rate of suicide seemed to increase exponentially recently.
In 2012, County Coroner Dan Burns said there were 20 suicides, whereas the prior 5-year average was 10.2 deaths by suicide per year. “I’d say it was significant,” he said of the increase, adding the rates tend to fluxuate. So far this year there have been a total of six suicides.
“When I talked to the advisory board I said I would do it if there was some supreme effort to do some rural outreach, “ Kessler said, adding that areas such as Grays Harbor and Pacific counties are often neglected on such issues.
While many of the group’s members have lost a loved one to suicide, Kessler has been fortunate in that she has not, she said.
The group plans to focus on changing policy with a focus on educating those who come in contact with those who are at-risk of committing suicide.
“Counselors, doctors, anybody who connects with them, to help them to be very aware, because they don’t spend a lot of time (on suicide prevention awareness) in medical school,” she said.
Kessler said she hopes to help influence the group to continue with a focus on rural areas as well as urban. She is also involved in a number of different causes including early childhood learning and open-access goverenment.
“I don’t sit well,”she said of her life since retiring two years ago. “So I have to find things that I like to do.”