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San Diego Group Advocating For Suicide Prevention Legislation In Sacramento

March 12, 2019 1:40 p.m.

GUEST: Che Hernandez, chairman, San Diego chapter of American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

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Suicide prevention advocates from across the state will gather in Sacramento tomorrow urging lawmakers to make mental health and suicide prevention priority issues in California. Organizers of this state capital day say suicide claims more victims in California than alcohol related traffic accidents and is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S.. Many of the advocates traveling to Sacramento will be bringing their own stories of loved ones who died by suicide. Among them is my guest Jay Hernandez chairman of the San Diego chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and Shea welcome to the program.

Thank you for having me. You became an advocate after your nephew died by suicide back in 2009. Did you know your nephew was struggling or did his death come as a shock.

I knew that he was having some issue with drugs and alcohol but I didn't really know the signs and the questions so it did come as a surprise.

I mean the surprise to the whole family that we didn't know that he was dealing with those kind of thoughts and that he would take his life in advocating for legislation for Suicide Prevention you're going to be sharing your nephew's story with members of the state Assembly and Senate. What do you hope sharing that very personal story does to make it real.

You know we have a lot of statistics and the numbers and we know that there are people behind every single number. And you know we want to be the voice for those people that don't have one anymore. And so we are not experts in the legislative process. We're not experts in you know the committees and all that but we're subject matter experts in our own experiences. You know some of us have lost loved ones to suicide like I lost my nephew Austin and others you know have struggled themselves with thoughts of suicide and possibly have mental health conditions.

The other thing that is a possibility is that we walk into these offices right and we're talking about suicide and mental health like it's out in the world somewhere. But we also have staffers and people in the hallways that are like Oh thank you for doing what you're doing. I've struggled or they have a personal story also. So you know we are letting them know as an organization the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is doing great things programs in education in our own communities and we want the legislators to know what we're doing and how they can help us continue our mission.

One piece of legislation that your group is pushing is called SB eleven. What would it do so.

SB 11 relates to mental health parity was enacted back in 2000 eight on the federal level and that is a concept so that mental health is treated the same as physical health. So they're not we're not looking at these things differently. You know the brain is just another Oregon to the body and deserves you know the same sort of attention as other areas of the body so parity isn't into law so that insurance companies won't treat those things differently. So SB eleven on the state level was introduced you know to put into law insurance companies will have to create an annual report so that they are showing that they're having parity and then there's other things in the bill.

You know we want people to have access to care and then also have it be affordable.

Now in your issue brief it states that suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth teens and young adults. Are you therefore advocating any particular issues aimed at helping young people.

Yeah sure. So the Senate bill 331 has a youth suicide prevention strategic plan that you know is having different counties across the state adopt these strategic plans. But you know in the language it's already been stated that San Diego is ahead of the curve because we already are county. We already have a strategic plan in place. So you know we just want youth to be taken care of in a way before it gets to a critical level.

And that's a strategic plan to prevent suicide among young Pete. That's correct yes. Now do you think having those services in place would have helped your nephew.

I think so you know it's a he was 21 years old at the time. And at the same time he didn't fall into any of those high risk categories that we often hear about. He did not identify as LGBT. He was not a veteran and active duty military you know I mean there are so many at risk groups that we could talk about. So he proves the point that if we only focus on those high risk groups who else are we missing. So you know we want to be able to look at the community at large and and not miss anybody.

And so but if we start early can do some of these youth targeted programs and centers that they can get help then maybe home ahead of the curve part of what you're going to be asking for in Sacramento is the establishment of youth mental health centers.

Tell us more about that.

Well youth mental health centers are something that you know if he goes into law then the different counties will have to implement a youth inform design you know to integrate these health services for young people. And we supporting those mental health needs and it could be you know moderate anchoring like anxiety and depression or even you know some some other conditions. But we need to ensure that those services are affordable for those people.

Now your nephew's death led you to actually change your career path. You now do suicide prevention training. How effective is that kind of intervention.

The intervention is very effective. I think that if one of the regrets that I had was that I didn't know what questions to ask my nephew and I remember that you know I stood first started on the volunteer level with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. I did have someone come up to me fairly early on and say that they had thoughts of suicide themselves and I felt unprepared. So I went in and pursued training and the intervention models that are out there are very good because not only you become aware in the community you're able to step in and you're the bridge to them getting professional help.

So when we do these trainings you know we're not asking people to become mental health professionals themselves. We're not asking them to fix to problem solve. It's not solutions based. It's keeping them safe for now so that we can get them more help.

I've been speaking with Che Hernandez he's chairman of the San Diego chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Che thank you very much. Thank you. If you were someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1 800 273 TALK FOR support information and resources.

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