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Want to help reduce suicide? Join Gila County’s new review board

Posted 6/27/23

An array of community partners met during 2021-2022, focused on public health topics and strategies.

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Want to help reduce suicide? Join Gila County’s new review board


An array of community partners met during 2021-2022, focused on public health topics and strategies. You can read the comprehensive 30-page report they produced online; just search using keywords ‘Gila County Community Health Improvement Plan.’ It should come as no surprise that suicide ranks #2 among top public health priorities to be focused on through 2027. Why shouldn’t that be surprising?

Consider that:

* Gila County suicide deaths increased 92% from 2020 to 2021.

* The largest increase from 2020 - 2021 was seen in the number of deaths of people age 71 and older.

* And 80 percent of suicide deaths in Gila County in 2021 were firearm-related.

How can you help?

One key goal of the Community Health Improvement Plan is to create a suicide review board – composed of local people working together to find gaps in services, to raise awareness of social isolation and loneliness within Gila County, and to take steps towards better outreach. Would you consider serving on this new board, have questions, or want more information? Call or text Gila County Health & Emergency Management’s Jessica Valgento at (928) 358-0735, or email

Coordinator of Gila County’s public health efforts to counter the opioid epidemic, Jessica also convenes a similar panel of Overdose Fatality Review Board volunteers, and found time this week for a brief interview to explain more about this crucial suicide-awareness initiative.

Three Questions With Jessica Valgento

Q. Who do you hope will serve on this new board? Is there any requirement that board members work in social services – or is any credential or degree needed?

Jessica: “No credential or degree is required. Ideally we will have representation from those who work in behavioral and mental health services, healthcare systems, schools, veteran services, law enforcement, EMS, senior centers, homeless services, faith leaders, and any other community members who have a passion for suicide prevention. It would also be beneficial to have members who have had personal experience with suicide. We expect to meet 4-5 times each year, for about two hours per meeting. This should give us enough time to review at least three cases per meeting. We want to give as many members as possible a chance to attend, so the meetings will be hybrid, in person and on Zoom.”

Q. You already have experience with Gila County’s Overdose Fatality Review Board; please describe.

Jessica: “We’ve been fortunate to have thorough community participation in our Overdose Fatality Review Board. Discussions generated during these meetings - and recommendations that have resulted - help us identify the areas where we can focus our prevention strategies and create action plans for the future. Right now we are focusing on reducing stigma, providing overdose education, and supplying the public with harm reduction tools, such as naloxone (Narcan) and fentanyl test strips. We will meet again in September, and if you’re reading this and want to be involved, please contact me at the phone or email above.”

Q. This April headline was sobering: “Gila County has highest suicide rate in the state.” The article went on to cite statistics that our county’s rate is triple that of the state of AZ – the highest in AZ among veterans, and also children. What are three steps this new board can take during 2023 to begin to reverse that?

Jessica: “First, the board will collect and analyze suicide-related data from our community. This will help us determine local demographic trends and risk factors. Second, we will help create and develop new prevention and intervention programs that are tailored to our community’s unique needs and challenges. We will aim to work closely with our schools, local organizations, and healthcare providers. Third, the board will work to increase community engagement and support. Public awareness and stigma reduction can be improved through open dialogue regarding mental health and suicide, organization of community events and workshops, and collaboration and partnerships among stakeholders. Losing our community members, family and friends to suicide is having a devastating impact on Gila County. The only way we are going to solve this problem is by coming together and sharing experiences and expertise. Learning about those who have passed away by taking their own life is not easy, but it is extremely worthwhile in that it can help us prevent, as a society, future suicides from occurring. I encourage anyone with a vested interest to consider participating on this board.”