And just what is suicide prevention, anyway?
Suicide prevention is a broad topic. It encompasses everything from crisis response, such as being part of a mobile crisis response team, to working on system changes and public awareness of suicide and preventing suicidal thinking and attempts. Many job descriptions include various expressions of suicide prevention, including law enforcement, primary care, emergency department staff, first responders such as fire and EMS, and mental health workers. We expect that these sectors would be involved in this important work
There are other sectors that carry a significant burden in preventing suicide. School teachers, counselors, and administrators, college residence staff, social service providers, faith-based organization volunteers and staff often play pivotal roles in assisting others in staying alive. Unfortunately, effective training in the basic prevention skills is often not available to members of these sectors. They know that people at risk are in their work and private worlds, but they do not know how to identify them or to help them.
This is where my work lies – training all sectors in effective strategies for identifying at-risk individuals and know how to respond simply and effectively. All a person has to do significantly increase the chances that they can be effective in prevention work is know the warning signs and risk factors, ask the right questions in a timely manner when they find a person at risk, and get the at-risk person to the right assistance as quickly as possible.
The various sectors of the region with which I regularly work in providing these skills include:
- Law enforcement professionals, who receive mental health awareness, conflict mediation strategies, crisis de-escalation skills, suicide intervention skills, and training on culturally appropriate responding.
- High school students who receive awareness of suicide risk factors and warning signs, signs of depression, and identification of formal and informal supports for use when they or their friend may be at risk.
- Primary care and emergency department professionals, for whom I provide mental health awareness, crisis de-escalation skills, and suicide intervention skills.
- School teachers and para-professionals, who receive mental health awareness along with understanding childhood trauma and its impacts across the life span (ACE training), suicide prevention skills, skills for crisis de-escalation and navigating power struggles, and accommodations in the classroom to increase learning and decrease disruption.
- College residence and student services staff, who gain skills for suicide intervention and mental health awareness.
- EMS and first responders, who gain knowledge about the risks they face due to the ongoing traumatic stress of their work, and skills for self-help and traumatic stress mitigation.
Did I mention that I love my work? Finding this niche for my research, training, and problem-solving skills has been a gift from God to me. As this career pursuit has unfolded, I have been put into contact or partnership with amazing people from across the state and nation. These people have inspired me with their commitment to the challenge, educated me into the best practices in these fields, and provided seemingly limitless support as I expand the reach of my work.
Does this prevention work…well, work? Apparently. The use of local, statewide, and national crisis lines has increased over the last eight years (I have been doing this for a bit over four years). Anecdotally, we hear stories from providers who are reporting interventions that have saved lives. Citizens have reported their own stories of being suicidal and experiencing a crisis line or local intervention that changed the course of their lives.
We do not win every battle, however. People still die by suicide in the region. The suicide rates nationally and in Minnesota continue to climb, perhaps in part to more thorough reporting but also because of more people attempting. While we seem to be winning many battles, we are still losing too many.
Suicide is the culmination of a crisis of hope for most of its victims. We live in a society in which hope seems to be waning, and despair seems to be on the rise. Middle-aged men, older men, farmers, veterans, and active-duty soldiers are some of our highest risk groups. Suicide is now the second-leading cause of death for young people ages 10 to 14. Overall, the numbers in this age group are low, but they speak to the crisis of hope in a group that should be most hopeful.
Suicide is the most preventable cause of death in the world. In future posts I will write about key prevention understandings and concepts. Please remember, if you or someone you love is depressed or in some way showing signs of hopelessness, please get help quickly. Do not wait. For help, contact these resources which are available 24 hours every day:
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-TALK (8255) Phone only
- National Crisis Text Line: Text “Home” to 741741
- Veterans and military-connected: 800-273-8255, then press option 1
- Veterans and military text line: 838255