By Maureen O'Hagan, Kaiser Health News, September 23, 2019
On Kimberly Repp’s office wall is a sign in Latin: Hic locus est ubi mors gaudet succurrere vitae. This is a place where the dead delight in helping the living.
For medical examiners, it’s a mission. Their job is to investigate deaths and learn from them, for the benefit of us all. Repp, however, isn’t a medical examiner; she’s a Ph.D. microbiologist. And as the Washington County epidemiologist, she was most accustomed to studying infectious diseases like flu or norovirus outbreaks among the living.
But in 2012 she was asked by county officials to look at suicide. The request led her into the world of death investigations, and also appears to have led to something remarkable: In this suburban county of 600,000 just west of Portland, the suicide rate now is going down. It’s remarkable because national suicide rates have risen despite decades-long efforts to reverse the deadly trend.