One of the best ways to prevent suicide is to talk about it. Although it is often thought of as a taboo subject, an open discussion and sharing of referrals can go a long way in saving lives.

On July 31, the Stallion Springs Police Department invited local residents to join mental health professionals to discuss suicide prevention including services available for behavioral health and emergency resources.

The Community Mental Health Suicide Prevention Symposium, held at the Stallion Springs Community Center, was the first of its kind to be offered to the community to combat rising suicide rates.

"Mental health and suicide has definitely impacted me personally, in my own personal life as well as on the job," said Stallion Springs Police Chief Gary Crowell, who hosted the symposium.

Crowell went on to say that it is not always apparent when someone is suffering in pain; therefore, it was his intention to host the symposium to educate, inspire and empower the community in the movement to help prevent suicide.

"In 2010, this small community led the state per capita for suicide, believe it or not ...," Crowell said. "There has been a lot of issues in mental health as far as people trying to harm themselves, and we are starting to see that trend."

At particular risk are individuals ages 18 through 29, said Crowell, adding that it was his intention to have open communication with the local school district, local law enforcement, Kern Behavioral Health and Recovery Services and other organizations to better serve the public.

"If we can just help one person, that's all that matters to me ... There is no one out there that is not impacted by this," Crowell said.

According to Amber Smithson, director of business development for Bakersfield Behavioral Healthcare Hospital, an educated community is a healthy and strong community.

The Bakersfield hospital is a 90-bed, inpatient psychiatric facility, the only freestanding psychiatric facility in Kern County, and takes patients as young as 5.

"One out of six individuals are struggling with their mental health," Smithson said. "It can get so bad that it can completely debilitate them and stop them from being able to do their day-to-day routine."

Smithson said a lot people believe there is a stigma that is attached to mental health challenges, and for this reason, only half of people suffering from mental health issues seek help.

"It shouldn't matter if it is mental health or a phobia," Smithson said. "An illness is an illness is an illness."

A person's ability to pay should not stop them from seeking help.

"At the end of the day, it doesn't matter what insurance you have, or if you have no insurance," Smithson said. "If you come to our facility we will absolutely assess you and make sure that you are safe and provide you with the help that you need."

Serving on the Mobile Evaluation Team is Delphina Rojo of Kern Behavioral Health and Recovery Services. Although housed in Bakersfield, Rojo said the Mobile Evaluation Team is equipped to respond to all cities within Kern County, including Tehachapi.

"We are able to provide on-site deescalation," said Rojo who has been saving lives for the past 12 years. "I can sit with somebody for hours if necessary and listen to their story about what's happening ... and that is the benefit of having a Mobile Evaluation Team.

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