The Suicide Prevention Center of New York conducted a two-hour workshop on June 29 that outlined a six-step strategic planning model to help Tompkins County identify suicide risk factors in the community and appropriate mitigation tools for addressing them.
WATCH: Suicide Prevention Workshop for Tompkins County
The workshop was conducted via Zoom by Garra Lloyd-Lester, director of the center’s Community and Coalition Initiatives, for the 19-member strategic planning work group of the Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition.
“The goal of this workshop is to provide a framework, a structure, that you all might consider to then utilize going forward to develop your county’s strategic plan for suicide prevention,” said Lloyd-Lester.
He cited reports of at least 54 suicide deaths in Tompkins County from 2017 to 2021; 87 percent of those who died by suicide were white and 20 percent were in the 20-29 age bracket. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States, and the second leading cause of death for Americans aged 10-34.
The Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition was formed in 2017 to intensify suicide prevention efforts in the community; as of April 2021, the coalition listed 215 members including 73 agencies and community organizations.
Lloyd-Lester said that Step 1 in strategic planning involves compiling data to achieve the clearest possible understanding of a community’s suicide deaths—who is dying, and by what means.
“We want to talk about who in our community is dying by suicide, who in our community might be experiencing suicidal thoughts that haven’t necessarily led to actions, or experiencing suicidal thoughts that led to attempts that didn’t result in the individual dying,” said Lloyd-Lester.
“We want to be thinking about other characteristics that we might be able to gather: age, gender, race, ethnicity, and other characteristics that might help us begin to understand in our community who is dying by, or making attempts toward, suicide.”
Lloyd-Lester added that it is equally important to understand how people are making attempts or completing suicide. “Is there one or more that tends to be the more prevalent method in our community?” he asked. “Understanding how people are dying in our community and making attempts can really help to begin to explore possible interventions and strategies.”
Step 2 recommends that the coalition consider two or three long-term goals, aimed at addressing the trends indicated by the data; the goals might focus on a demographic group reporting a higher suicide rate, or particular methods that appear to be prevalent in the community’s suicide deaths.
In Step 3, the coalition is advised to identify the key risk factors and protective factors or lack thereof in the community. Risk factors include mental health conditions, availability of lethal means such as firearms or drugs; protective factors include availability of mental health resources, social connectedness, and coping skills.
“We have to be thinking about ‘why’,” said Lloyd-Lester. “Are there any unique risk factors in the community that contribute to suicidal behaviors? It is not just enough to know the commonly understood risk factors. We need to drill down and say, ‘In our community, are there any unique risk factors that we can begin to address?’”
Lloyd-Lester said that Step 4 involves selecting practical, evidence-based interventions for decreasing a community’s risk factors and increasing protective factors. He cited examples such as packaging prescription drugs in lesser quantities to reduce their potential as a lethal means for suicide; or promoting problem-solving skills among young people as an increased protective factor. He recommended that the coalition take an inventory of suicide prevention efforts already underway that could be built upon, such as adoption of the Zero Suicide Model for healthcare providers and gatekeeper training for identifying at-risk individuals.
In Step 5, the coalition is advised to develop a plan to evaluate its efforts to prevent suicide deaths; Lloyd-Lester said an evaluation helps to track and measure progress and to show partners, stakeholders, policymakers, funders, and the community the value of suicide prevention efforts.
Finally, Lloyd-Lester said that Step 6 is the creation of an action plan to implement the suicide prevention interventions identified in Step 4. He said an action plan usually includes a list of tasks and who is responsible for them, and a timeline for implementation.
“I find that if I don’t have a timeline in place the ball can keep getting kicked down the road,” he said. “So I would suggest at least coming up with a rough timeline of when we hope to have the data presented, when we hope to have the long-term goals presented, and ultimately when we hope to have a final plan to present to the full coalition.”
Lloyd-Lester cautioned that a number of speed bumps can hinder the success of a strategic plan: unrealistic goals; lack of focus, resources, or full member commitment; developing and creating a plan for the sake of having a plan but just putting it on the shelf.
INTERESTED? To join or support the Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition, contact coalition convener Sally Manning at SallyMCSS@racker.org
[If you or someone you know feels the need to speak with a mental health professional, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.]