Durango is a caring and compassionate community, and the recent rise in suicides has been especially hard-hitting. Coverage of the increased rate of suicide and the resultant response from community members have become heightened, and the search for a solution has been prioritized. Conversations have started, but where do we go from here?
San Juan Basin Public Health is working to demonstrate to individuals, including parents, friends, teachers, as well as stakeholder organizations, including schools, youth groups and health care providers, that everyone has a role to play in suicide prevention.
SJBPH has been working on this issue through its State Innovation Model grant program, and it held a suicide-prevention community summit in May of this year. The overwhelming attendance at the event and the response from participants clearly demonstrated the need for a communitywide effort to start tackling this complex problem. The feedback received from attendees at the summit indicated the need for mental health and wellness promotion, suicide-prevention awareness and training, and increased communication and coordination of resources.
Since the summit, SJBPH has launched a stigma reduction/mental health promotion campaign, “Let’s Talk Colorado,” created by a number of Colorado-based physical and mental health organizations. The goal of the Let’s Talk campaign is to reduce the stigma of mental illness so that people who need treatment are more likely to seek it. Its premise is simple: Anyone can reach out to someone who might be hurting by initiating a caring conversation.
Additionally, SJBPH has been providing Brief Suicide Intervention Training to local organizations and individuals who want to learn more about how they can play a role in suicide prevention. This is an hourlong training for non-experts who are interested in learning (and practicing) how to intervene with someone who might be suicidal.
Suicide is a multi-factored problem, and in an effort to make large-scale social change on the issue, SJBPH is also leading a collective impact process, focused on cross-sector coordination of stakeholder individuals and organizations. Collective impact is essentially many different players aligning their efforts to solve a complex problem.
The five fundamentals of collective impact include:
A common agenda: All participants have a shared vision, a common understanding of the problem and an agreed upon action plan.
Shared measurement: Accountability around consistent data collection and measurement.
Mutually reinforcing activities: Participant activities coordinated through a mutually reinforcing plan of action.
Continuous communication: Consistent and open communication to build trust and create common motivation.
Backbone support: One organization to serve as the “backbone” to coordinate organizations and ensure the initiative is on track.
A key factor in the success of this systems-level approach to suicide prevention is to ensure that those most affected by the issue are meaningfully engaged in the process. As the backbone organization in this initiative, SJBPH is currently in the process of forming a steering committee and workgroups.
Key stakeholder organizations and individuals, including youth, are being recruited to ensure the level of meaningful community engagement needed to reduce suicides in our community.
Essentially, suicide interventions are about human connection. Caring for our peers, family members and even strangers is at the root of preventing suicide. Most people who die by suicide give some indication of their intention to those close to them. Whether it is a systems-level intervention or simply a caring individual starting a supportive conversation with someone who is hurting, we can all play a role in making a connection and possibly, saving a life. Please join us in these efforts.
To learn more about SJBPH’s suicide-prevention efforts, visit www.sjbpublichealth.org
Claire Ninde is director of communications at San Juan Basin Public Health.