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San Diego County Suicide Rate On The Rise, A Mysterious Vaping-Related Illness, A Michelangelo On Display In San Diego

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San Diego County suicide rate continues to climb for the fourth year in a row, according to the county’s Suicide Prevention Council’s annual report. Plus, county health officials are working with state and federal officials to investigate 12 cases of a mysterious vaping-related illness. And, a new art exhibit at USD draws upon the works of the Italian Renaissance from The British Museum and includes a drawing from Michelangelo.

Show transcript

Speaker 1: 00:00 The number of deaths by suicide continues a slow climb in San Diego. In keeping with national suicide prevention week, the county has released new statistics showing an increase in suicides for a fourth year in a row. The goal of the county suicide prevention council remains the same and that is getting to zero suicides. But as the new numbers show, that goal remains elusive. Journey may is Stan Collins who aside prevention specialist with the San Diego County Suicide Prevention Council. Stan, welcome to the program.

Speaker 2: 00:32 Thanks so much for having me.

Speaker 1: 00:33 One of the things that jumped out at me in this report is that you say suicide is one of the leading causes of death in the county. Where does it rank in comparison to, let's say, traffic accidents or heart failure?

Speaker 2: 00:47 So it's interesting and there's actually about a hundred more suicides than there are car accident deaths each year. So a Su suicide is one, if not the leading cause of non-natural death, one of the top three leading causes of non-natural death, and it's in the top 10 of causes. Overall,

Speaker 1: 01:02 the council's annual report shows that 465 people died by suicide and San Diego County last year. That's about seven more than reported in 2017. Could the slow increase that we're seeing over the last few years just be attributed to population growth?

Speaker 2: 01:20 Actually, it's not consistent with population growth. So, um, over the past decade or so as we see the most significant climbs, uh, some of the population was actually pretty hold holding pretty steady. Um, so it's not simply attributed to population and the trends and increase we've seen across the state and actually nationally. So there's nothing unique about San Diego as far as an increase in suicides just here locally.

Speaker 1: 01:41 So what is causing this increase? Do we have any kind of handle on that?

Speaker 2: 01:45 I don't think, I think as a suicide loss survivor myself, we oftentimes try to look for that cause what is the why in this conversation? And I think it's too complex to simplify down to one thing. Um, since 2007, 2008, we ha that's really where we started to see the increase begin. So you could of course, anecdotally attributed to the recession and some of the financial issues, but suicide is really much more complex than that. And so it's really such an individual basis about what's going on in that person's life. So rather than looking at the causes, what I tried to focus on, because we can't prevent bad things from happening in people's lives, what we can do is help make people more resilient, to respond to whatever it is that comes into their life.

Speaker 1: 02:25 Now the report highlights what you call means reduction strategies. Can you explain what that means and maybe give us an example? Yeah.

Speaker 2: 02:33 So what we know is that restricting access to lethal means is one of the most research proven strategies for reducing suicides. And to simplify it, it's this, it's putting distance and time between somebody who's having thoughts of suicide and, and the means, lethal means to make a suicide attempt. And the more distance and space you can put, the more opportunity you have for intervention, the more opportunity you have for that person to choose a different path. And so specifically today we highlighted three separate efforts. Um, over the last few years there's been a lot of momentum to put a barrier along the cornetto bridge. We also have a partnership with Ucs d school of pharmacy where all of the students are invited to learn about suicide prevention as our best practice, as a skill for going in the field of pharmacy. And I'm really excited about the, the last one which has stopped firearm suicide, San Diego.

Speaker 2: 03:20 So over the past year I've been working with a variety of gun shops and ranges across the county and I would really want to give a shout out to Poway weapons and gear. They have really been one of the leaders in this effort. So with the firearm suicide stop, firearm suicide, San Diego component with Poway weapons and gear specifically, as an example, they are providing materials on suicide prevention with every gun sale. They're training their staff in suicide prevention. And what's really fascinating and exciting is that they are also including information on suicide prevention and their firearm safety courses. So through that, through all those efforts that are going to reach anywhere from 10 to 15,000 firearm owners every year with information about suicide prevention and unfortunately firearm is the leading cause or the leading means of suicide deaths here in San Diego.

Speaker 1: 04:03 Are you also advocating for any kind of gun reform legislation to go along with that piece?

Speaker 2: 04:09 So that's a tricky issue. Um, I think there will be people on both sides of the fence within the suicide prevention community. I personally come from a family of, of law enforcement. I'm a gun owner myself. And so I believe that rather than coming to this as adversaries, I think it's more important that we focus on how can we ally and how can we agree. And I think it's important that people are aware of efforts such as the gun violence restraining order, but more important than that, I think we need to look at the least restrictive means. And so one of the things we're doing through the gun shop project is, uh, Poway weapons. A gear again is one of our partners where they're offering discounts on storage for individuals who have maybe a family member or themselves or going through a hard time and so there's other gun shops around the county who are offering discounted rates for people to store their firearms. A lot of people don't even know that if, if you need to get the firearms out of the home for a little while, you can take them to a gun shop and store them until the situation and the crisis resolves.

Speaker 1: 05:03 And if someone is out there in pain and thinking about suicide, what should they do?

Speaker 2: 05:07 I think they should reach out for support. They should talk to friends and family. They can also call the access and crisis line (888) 724-7240. But I think it also starts with having some accountability and ourselves to not be afraid to talk about suicide. If you are worried that someone in your life is having a hard time or maybe thinking about suicide, ask directly, are you thinking about suicide? And if the answer is yes, make sure that you're getting, getting them connected to the appropriate help, and again, making sure that you're reducing that access to lethal means.

Speaker 1: 05:37 I've been speaking with Stan Colin, suicide prevention specialist with the San Diego County Suicide Prevention Council. Stan, thanks a lot. Thank you.

Speaker 3: 05:53 [inaudible].

Speaker 1: 00:00 There was another death this week from a national outbreak of an unusual vaping related illness. So far. San Diego was holding at 12 cases with no deaths. KPBS health reporter Teran Mento talks to the county health departments Dr. Eric McDonald about treating the disease while working to solve the mystery.

Speaker 2: 00:20 Well, Dr. McDonald, thank you for speaking with me. It's my pleasure. What's the latest on the cases in San Diego?

Speaker 3: 00:25 Well, it's an interesting illness because it's not reportable. It's not one of the ones we'd known about until recently, but one of the things that is supposed to be reported is unusual diseases and that's exactly what this is. We have 12 cases that have been reported so far in San Diego. They range in age from 17 to 70 with the median at about 38 which is a little older than some of the cases across the rest of the country. They wreck the rest of the country. Is reporting a lot of, uh, teenagers and young adults.

Speaker 2: 00:54 Are these patients still currently hospitalized? They're all 12 currently in the hospital. Have some be been released.

Speaker 3: 01:00 There was one patient that had to be readmitted to the hospital. And that's one of the things we don't know about this illness is really one of the longterm effects. Certainly there's some dramatic short term effects where individuals are hospitalized, put in the intensive care unit, uh, sometimes put on breathing machines. This has happened here in San Diego. Uh, but that's the short term problem. Nobody really knows what the longterm problems, uh, both of this syndrome and frankly of using these vaping products might be.

Speaker 2: 01:26 Why don't we know yet what's causing this?

Speaker 3: 01:29 That's a great question. Uh, the, and the, the, the sort of follow on is how long has this really been going on? I mean, is it just something that, because some doctors noticed it and published it, uh, and other doctors started looking that were seeing something that was always there, uh, or are the numbers of people who are vaping just getting to a critical mass that, and an uncommon result of vaping is now showing up more frequently? Or is there something new being introduced into different vaping products? Uh, that is in fact causing these, it could be any or all of those. We have been able to get samples from two of our 12 patients in San Diego and sent those samples up to the state cannabis, um, uh, uh, laboratory at, uh, the, uh, department of public health. Some of the, uh, laboratories across the country have noted that some of the cannabis products have had vitamin E in them and that's not something that you would normally expect to find. Now the question is, is that related or is that just a red herring? And we don't really know until we can connect all the dots.

Speaker 2: 02:34 You just said that a samples from two of the 12 patients that we sent to the state, is that the county's main role, just a, you know, a, a middleman here or is, are you doing more on the ground asking questions, collecting data, and doing your own investigation?

Speaker 3: 02:50 Well, uh, it's a little bit of both. This is a national investigation and they, uh, have established a national database with standard questions. All of the local jurisdictions are feeding up to the CDC because sometimes you need large numbers of cases to understand small details that that might be able to crack the case so to speak. But for our individual cases here in San Diego, they have to be interviewed. They have to be looked into. We ask if they've got product available. And again, in two of the cases we were able to, to identify those a have those routed through our public health lab to the state lab. And of course we track all of that information, uh, and give feedback to the providers. In fact, if we find things other than knowing that all of our cases, uh, bought products that were canaveroid products and knowing that many of them bought it from pop up shops or over the internet, which is something that we're trying to counsel against.

Speaker 3: 03:46 We haven't seen any other specific commonalities between our patients. Anything I missed that I didn't ask this? The signs and symptoms people have of these illnesses? Uh, it turns out that it's not just a respiratory symptoms. People have, um, some of the initial symptoms people have after vaping can be a nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and diarrhea leading then to, um, respiratory symptoms of cough and shortness of breath. And so one of the messages that we have is if you have those kinds of symptoms and you're seeking medical care, which you should, um, you should tell your doctor about all the things that you do. Um, the nutritional supplements that you take, the medications that you're on, and the products that you might be using and vaping because it might actually affect what your doctor thinks of in terms of what would be causing your symptoms. Well, thank you very much for your time, doctor. It's my pleasure. Yeah. Okay, thanks.

Speaker 1: 04:37 That was KPBS reporter Taron Mento speaking with the director of the county's epidemiology and immunization services branch, Dr. Eric McDonald.

Speaker 4: 04:50 [inaudible].
Speaker 1: 00:00 Today, the University of San Diego's Ho and family galleries opens an exhibit called Christ life, death and resurrection. It draws upon works of the Italian Renaissance from the British Museum, one of which is a sketch from Michael Angelo KPBS arts reporter Beth OCHA, Mando previews, the exhibit with USDS, Derrick Cartwright and British museums. Hugo Chapman.

Speaker 2: 00:24 Derek, to begin with, uh, tell us about this new exhibit that's opening here at the University of San Diego.

Speaker 3: 00:30 The exhibition is called Christ's life death resurrection. And it's a group of over 40 works from the British museums, stellar collection of Italian renaissance and later prints and drawings. And it's an incredible chance for San Diego to get a complete survey of first and foremost of British museums, great collections, but also these Italian renaissance works and some later works that may never come to San Diego again.

Speaker 2: 00:55 And now people may expect to see student work here on a campus, but you bring in world-class art on a regular basis. So what is the commitment of the university to doing that and why do you feel that's important as part of the campus experience?

Speaker 3: 01:08 What the university galleries and museums like ours have a special role. We're not interested in doing things that will just generate large visitation to the institution. We have another goal in mind. We want to expose our students but also the rest of the community to the finest things that men and women have made over time. And the chances for an undergraduate here at the University of San Diego to encounter a drawing by Michelangelo is an 18 year old and come back as many times as they want is something I wish I had when I was an undergraduate. But I think we're going to offer that, uh, throughout this fall semester. And I think because of great colleagues like Hugo, we're able to show them the, as I said that very best things.

Speaker 2: 01:50 And Hugo, you have a fabulous title keeper of Prince at the British Museum. What is the keeper of Prince Do?

Speaker 4: 01:58 Well, keep, it just means I hold the keys. So if, if anything goes missing, I'm the guy who gets the sack. Rarely. Uh, but I think just to pick out what Derek says, I mean, my life changed because of the British Museum going as a student to look at Ralph our drawings. Uh, when I was studying him. And from that moment I thought, these are the most amazing works I've ever seen and I want to spend my life looking at works on paper. So shows like this really can change lives.

Speaker 2: 02:25 And you curated this event. So what were you looking for in terms of the specific prints that you decided to choose to bring here?

Speaker 4: 02:33 Well, that both prints and drawings. I mean, I think the idea was to both tell, uh, the story of Italian art from the 14 hundreds to the early 19th century. We really wanted to blow the socks off San Diego. So we very much chose our, a team, these, you know, great artists, but also got slowly Michelangelo and [inaudible] Karate. I mean, these great names. Um, and I want just people to look at these works, to understand different techniques, to understand how artists have looked at these narratives in different ways. And Yeah, just really kind of get close to these works on paper.

Speaker 2: 03:11 You mentioned Michelangelo and three crosses is the piece that you've brought from him. Explain to people what this looks like and why it's an important piece.

Speaker 4: 03:21 So this is Michelangelo. Uh, in the early 1520s, uh, he's back in front his hometown. He's probably making this drawing for somebody else to make a sculpture from a sculpture that doesn't survive. He's drawing in red choke, a very characteristic technique and, and, and, and Florence. And at the top is, is the three crosses Christ with the two thieves on either side that's very detailed. And then below it he shows in very sketchy way, very kind of cubist, simplified way. The group of morning women kind of really, really in a frenzy of grief of what they're seeing.

Speaker 2: 03:58 And why is it important to bring works like this over?

Speaker 4: 04:01 Well, I think as, as Derek says, you know, the chance for everybody to come into this show free of charge, you can just nip in and just have a look at a couple of, of works and then go away and think about them. I think, you know, these are works. You don't have to be a Christian. You can be of any denomination, you can be agnostic and atheist. It's about engaging with this art. Thinking about how artists have told these very familiar stories in, in different ways, uh, in different techniques. You know, these stories are about birth and death, these uh, tunnels and mankind stories. So there's a lot here

Speaker 2: 04:38 and with a lot of artwork being readily available on the Internet. But why is it important for people to actually come and kind of face to face, look at the actual works of art?

Speaker 4: 04:49 Well, I love the availability and accessibility of, of art digitally, but I mean there is, there is a real charge about standing in front of a piece of paper that Michelangelo has touched. I mean, you don't get, you know, you can touch your screen of your computer or your, or your phone as much as you as you like, but you do not get that sense that you are. And that's the extraordinary thing about it that works on papers, that immediacy about them, the feeling that you've, these things have just been set aside and they could have been done five minutes ago. And I think that is extraordinary. And so that's something you really can't recreate digitally.

Speaker 2: 05:29 And these are all Italian renaissance artists. What is it about them that makes them unique or that makes them stand apart from picking works about Christ from other areas or other artists from other countries?

Speaker 4: 05:43 Well, I mean, I, I guess as I've, you know, explained my kind of, my kind of moment of epiphany was looking at Italian art. So I mean, I'm an Italian artist. That is the kind of, uh, this is the, the center for me. Uh, but you know, you could do it a show about, uh, Netherlandish artists or German artists. I mean, I think a talented artist do it in a particularly kind of poetic way. They do it with this sort of mixture between classical art, uh, the, uh, so these sort of combining of Christianity and, and paganism in a very, uh, interesting and exciting and innovative way. But you know how I, you know, I think, uh, uh, they're not the only show in town, but I mean, uh, come and see. I mean, see if you think, uh, a Thailand [inaudible] is, is still the top dog. I mean, I think so, but a Derrick may make things differently. I don't know.

Speaker 2: 06:37 [inaudible] Derek, how does this exhibit reflect kind of the university's Catholic heritage and why is this kind of an important exhibit to have here?

Speaker 3: 06:47 Well, I think it is a good mirror of the mission of this university, both in its Catholic identity but also in its commitment to, um, educate the whole person. So as Hugo said, this is an exhibition which I think for somebody who's, um, very spiritual, we'll have a significance that they may never forget. But for our students who may not all have that experience, this is a show that will put them as Hugo so nicely said in direct contact with the great minds of the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries. And they will, um, learn something and avidly from that encounter. And that's what we're trying to do with the galleries is be as broad as possible. This is a show that I think so nicely fits in with the strategic goals of this university for its students, but also for the surrounding community. It, it engages the world by bringing people like Hugo into town and share sharing his knowledge with us. Um, I think those are important things. We were talking a moment ago about our habits of, you know, looking to our phones or our screens for information. And I think with that comes to kind of loss of attention. We look at things for a matter of seconds, but these are works of art that you could really spend the whole day with if you chose to. And I hope a few people will take us up on that challenge.

Speaker 2: 08:11 I know the, Michelangelo was kind of a centerpiece here, but do you each have a favorite piece aside from that?

Speaker 4: 08:17 It's a bit like selecting, which is your smartest and favorite child. But, uh, I mean, I love this, this, this print in front of us and not by an artist that anybody's particularly heard of code. A guy called committed procaccini works at the end of the 16th century and it's shows the transfiguration. That's when Christ goes up on top of a mountain and his body becomes tons into, into light. It glows with this extraordinary radiants and committed proxy Ini thinks about how am I going to, how am I going to show this amazing moment of transformation? And this show is all about Christ's body, how it is over the course of his life just transformed. Uh, and so he's done that by this wonderful sort of flicks of the etching needle so that Christ's body is there but also not there at the same time. And I think that's such a sort of innovative and brilliant, uh, way of expressing the ineffable nature of, of, of this, of this moment, uh, that really every time I look at it, I think what an amazing invention.

Speaker 3: 09:23 And Derek, I think a lot of people will come to this exhibition because it's maybe their only chance to see a Michelangelo drawing. But for me the drawing that's hanging right next to it, the frothy depot sleepy, which is this delicate ink drawing and full of so much nuance and almost barely there to the eyes. So compelling to look at and it's one of a handful I think drawings that survived by that artist. And the fact that we have that here. Thanks to you Hugo is amazing to me. So I want to publicly thank you.

Speaker 1: 09:57 And they're also going to be some lectures and gallery talks associated with this. What can people expect from that?

Speaker 3: 10:03 A lot of programming. So in addition to the 40 plus works that are here at USD, there are another 12 works at Simkin who goes lecturing there. We've put together a program with faculty members from the College of Arts and sciences, so different disciplines, specialists in, in, in literature, history, philosophy, theology are all speaking from their disciplinary points of view about the renaissance and the religious moment in which these works were created. So I think for the public who wants to take a deep dive into this material, this is the best chance that they're going to have for a long while in San Diego.

Speaker 1: 10:39 All right. Well, I want to thank you both very much for sharing this exhibit with us. Thank you so much. That was Beth OCHA Mando speaking with Derek Cartwright and Hugo Chapman about USDS, exhibit of Italian Renaissance Works called Christ life, death, and resurrection. The exhibit opens today and runs through December 13th it's free to the public.

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KPBS Midday Edition is a daily talk show hosted by Maureen Cavanaugh and Jade Hindmon, keeping San Diegans in the know on everything from politics to the arts.