OAKLEY -- An Oakley councilwoman's concern about the number of suicides that have occurred in the city this year has brought community leaders together to spread a message of hope: Help is available.
Diane Burgis noted during a council meeting Tuesday that six people have killed themselves since Jan. 1, and another attempted to take his life over the weekend.
"It's very concerning to me," Burgis said, her voice full of emotion as she noted that, by comparison, there were nine reported suicides in Oakley over the previous five years.
There's no common denominator among this year's cases, she said: None of the victims knew each other, the method of suicide varied, and they were different races and ages.
An 11-year-old shot himself. A 15-year-old died by hanging. A 24-year-old man walked onto some train tracks. A 34-year-old succumbed to a drug overdose.
In two other cases, the county coroner's division is awaiting a pathologist's report before labeling them suicides, although there's no evidence of foul play, said Capt. William Duke of the Contra Costa Sheriff's Office.
It's premature to deduce a trend from the statistics, Duke added, but he also noted that Oakley leads the county in the number of suicides to date this year, accounting for four of the 18 confirmed cases.
In an effort to prevent additional deaths, Burgis contacted county Supervisor Mary Piepho, of Discovery Bay, to brainstorm ways of letting people know about the broad range of help at their disposal -- not only for mental illness but also substance abuse, financial difficulties and troubled relationships.
"We need to help connect people to these resources," she said.
To that end, Burgis and Piepho met late last month with local government officials -- police and county mental health workers, Liberty Union High School District's superintendent and board members from two school districts -- along with pastors and a representative from Kaiser Permanente.
Contra Costa Crisis Center passed out the phone number of its 24-hour hotline -- 800-833-2900 -- and a details on 211, a free referral service that people can call for all kinds of problems.
High schools agreed to put up several posters with the crisis center's contact information, including one in Spanish, as well as distribute brochures describing the signs of depression to students as they register for classes this summer.
Liberty Union High and Antioch Unified school districts also said they periodically would remind teens to call 211 if they're feeling down.
In addition, participants discussed the possibility of affixing that phone number to the student identification lanyards that teens must wear on campus or following the crisis center's example and having it printed on tubes of lip balm -- "chatsticks" -- that many young people carry with them.
Another idea was to offer training that would equip students to be effective sounding boards for peers who need a sympathetic ear.
Attendees also learned that the Oakley Police Department has trigger locks for guns that are free for the asking.
After the meeting, Piepho mailed 64 pastors in her district encouraging them to let their congregations know about the services the crisis center provides. Now, she and Burgis are planning to meet with a countywide organization of religious groups to do the same.
She might never know whether her efforts make a difference, Burgis said, but she has to try.
"The attitude that nothing I do can help, that's not acceptable for me," she said.
Contact Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141. Follow her at Twitter.com/RowenaCoetsee.
Help is just a phone call away for anyone who's struggling -- here are some numbers:
The center's 24-hour hotline is not only for suicidal individuals but also for those in crisis because of physical or substance abuse.