Orange County supervisors unanimously approved the creation of a new office of suicide prevention Tuesday.

Two years ago, the board approved a contract with the National Alliance on Mental Illness to create a hotline for residents struggling with mental health issues, and last year the county approved $600,000 to be used by the nonprofit MindOC to create a “suicide prevention initiative.”

The new office was characterized as an outgrowth from those efforts.

“Since then the Health Care Agency and MindOC have been gathering data on suicide in the county,” Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said at Tuesday’s board meeting. “As COVID-19 continues to impact our daily lives it is important we work together implementing these programs and allocating these resources now.”

The new office will help coordinate all of the anti-suicide efforts within the county, Bartlett said.

“With COVID-19 and the increase in mental health illnesses that have resulted from COVID and other social isolation and social distancing I think the infrastructure that we have built together could not have come at a better time to help the residents of Orange County,” said Supervisor Andrew Do, who co-sponsored the measure with Bartlett.

“Helping people with mental illnesses doesn’t just end with diagnosing symptoms,” Do said. “It also helps to destigmatize mental health and efforts to seek help, and this is where the office of suicide prevention will also focus on. A lot of times needing help and being encouraged enough and empowered to get help is more than half the battle.”

Do pointed out that between 2014 and 2018 there have been 1,648 suicides in the county, which is an average of 330 per year. But over the last couple of years the average has grown to “closer to 360,” Do said.

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