Finding Hope: Battling America’s Suicide Crisis

Watch Anderson Cooper’s CNN town hall, “Finding Hope: Battling America’s Suicide Crisis,” an excellent program exploring the risk factors for suicide, ways to reach out for help, and how to aid somebody who may be struggling.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached by dialing 1-800-273-8255. It provides free and confidential support 24 hours a day, seven days a week for people in suicidal crisis or distress, or for those who are helping a person in crisis.

The recent deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain prompted a national conversation about suicide. Anderson Cooper’s Town Hall aired Sunday June 24 and featured the following guests who shared their expertise and experience of being touched by suicide:

Anderson Cooper, CNN anchor

Glenn Close and Jessie Close, actor and her sister

David Axelrod, former advisor to President Barack Obama

Karl Rove, former advisor to President George W. Bush

Christine Moutier, chief medical officer, American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Talinda Bennington, widow of Linkin Park lead singer Chester Bennington, co-founder of 320 Changes Direction

Kirsten Powers, USA Today columnist

Randi Kaye, CNN reporter

Zak Williams, son actor and comedian Robin Williams

Jane Clementi, co-founder Tyler Clementi Foundation

James Hatch, former U.S. Navy SEALs member

Sanjay Gupta, neurosurgeon and CNN chief medical correspondent.

Jordan Burnham, Active Minds mental health advocate

Dese’Rae L. Stage, artist, public speaker, and suicide prevention activist, creator of Live Through This

Tompkins Coalition: “Yes” to Zero Suicide Model

The Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition on Monday overwhelmingly voted to recommend the Zero Suicide Model for healthcare providers as a countywide suicide prevention initiative. Deputy Mental Health Services Commissioner Sharon MacDougall said the coalition’s recommendation will be sent to the Community Services Board and the Tompkins County Legislature for consideration.

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Deputy Tompkins County Mental Health Services Commissioner Sharon MacDougall (center) with Cornell University students Winnie Ho of Alpha Phi Omega Gamma Chapter and Sophie Jones of The Sophie Fund

Four healthcare organizations attending the meeting also announced their agreement to become Zero Suicide “champions”—Tompkins County Mental Health Services; Alcohol & Drug Council of Tompkins County; Cornell Health, the healthcare center of Cornell University; and Cayuga Area Plan/Preferred, Inc., which represents primary care providers. MacDougall asked the champions to “commit to the model and report back to this coalition next spring in 2019.” In March, the Cayuga Medical Center announced its adoption of the Zero Suicide Model.

Prior to the meeting, about 50 people attended a community presentation on the Zero Suicide Model given by Jillian King and Olivia Retallack of the New York State Office of Mental Health’s Suicide Prevention Office.

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The Zero Suicide Model holds that suicide prevention is a core responsibility of healthcare. Specifically, this entails a systematic clinical approach in healthcare systems—training staff, screening for suicide ideation, utilizing evidence-based interventions, mandating continuous quality improvement, treating suicidality as a presenting problem. The model’s developers argue that suicides can be prevented by closing cracks in healthcare systems—that “suicide deaths for individuals under care within health and behavioral health systems are preventable.”

King and Retallack called suicide “an enormous public health problem,” and noted that many people who take their own lives are receiving treatment in healthcare systems. According to data they presented, 80 percent of people who died by suicide had healthcare visits within the prior 12 months. And most had a recent visit: 45 percent had a primary care visit within a month of their deaths; and 19 percent had contact with mental health services within the past month.

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Inadequate training is part of the problem. In a 2014 survey of New York State mental health providers, 64 percent felt they had little or no specialized training for suicide intervention; 33 percent did not feel they had sufficient training to assist suicidal patients.

MacDougall recounted how Tompkins County Mental Health Services improved its suicide prevention efforts when it began adopting the Zero Suicide Model in 2016:

“What I realized was that we weren’t using evidence-based assessments or screening tools to ask the question. We were talking about depression. We were talking about things with our clients. But we didn’t actually use a specific screener, or a specific assessment that’s based on the best research available to ask the questions.

“So immediately we instituted C-SSRS [Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale], it’s an evidence-based screening tool that you can use for everyone. And we use it for everyone who walks in our door for an intake, and we use it on a regular basis for anyone who is even coming close to discussing suicide or depression issues. That was one step we made from that first year.

“We also looked at the fact that we weren’t doing safety plans. We were doing an older version, like a recovery plan, or a plan of care, but not a true safety plan. So we use that on anybody who tests positive after asking the suicide assessment.

“The third thing we realized was that our staff wanted and needed more training. They were asking for more training. All of our staff completed online certification training on online webinars.

“Early progress from this is that I think we have staff who are far more trained and much better at identifying and engaging clients who have suicide [thoughts]. We actually just ask the question now. It’s not just the depression screening. We actually ask ‘Are you feeling suicidal?’ And we actually dig in deeper.”

The Sophie Fund, which sponsored The Watershed Declaration in April 2017 calling for intensified suicide prevention efforts in Tompkins County,  released a statement Monday following the coalition’s meeting:

“The Sophie Fund would like to thank the Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition for supporting the Zero Suicide initiative. There are many agencies and individuals to acknowledge for their leadership, but we’d like to particularly thank Frank Kruppa and Sharon MacDougall of the Tompkins County Mental Health Services; Lee-Ellen Marvin of the Suicide Prevention & Crisis Service; and the Cayuga Medical Center, for its recent adoption of the Zero Suicide Model.

“We must do more to prevent suicide in Tompkins County. The Zero Suicide Model is an essential approach for saving lives. As the next step, The Sophie Fund renews its call on all the leading community and campus healthcare agencies in Tompkins County to commit to the Zero Suicide Model and to begin the implementation process as expeditiously as possible.

“We are experiencing a mental health crisis in the United States—and we must step up to meet that challenge. A terrible part of that crisis is the alarming rise in suicides. Just this month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report that the national suicide rate increased 25.4 percent from 1999 to 2016. There are more than 1 million suicide attempts every year. It is the second leading cause of death among young people 15-24 years of age.”

Dash! Splash! It’s Newfield’s Color Run!

The grounds of Newfield High School were ablaze in festive shades of pink, blue, and orange on Saturday as some 250 students, parents, and community members took part in the school’s annual spring Color Run.

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Under a brilliant sun and cloudless sky, everyone from senior citizens to toddlers in strollers to families with pets in tow trekked along their choice of routes—the standard five-kilometer course, one-mile course, or the “family” half-mile track. At five stations along the way the joggers and walkers were doused with colored powder, sometimes to shrieks of delight. With dozens of volunteer organizers on hand to help, music, lawn games, and hot dogs rounded out the day’s fun.

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The Color Run is sponsored by—and raises money for—a great student club at Newfield High School, Sources of Strength (SOS). This is part of a national peer-led suicide prevention program, originally developed in North Dakota in 1998, that promotes hope, help, strength, and connections, and provides support to struggling students.

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Newfield High School heard about Sources of Strength six years ago, and affiliated researchers and trainers at the University of Rochester offered two years of support and a bit of funding to help pilot the program in some Tompkins County schools.

What made this program so appealing to us at Newfield was the unique focus of having peer leaders deliver powerfully positive, strength-driven messages. The University of Rochester researchers had already collected solid data from several schools in North America proving the effectiveness of Sources of Strength.

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As Sources of Strength explains it:

“A best practice youth suicide prevention project designed to harness the power of peer social networks to change unhealthy norms and culture, ultimately preventing suicide, bullying, and substance abuse. The mission of Sources of Strength is to prevent suicide by increasing help seeking behaviors and promoting connections between peers and caring adults. Sources of Strength moves beyond a singular focus on risk factors by utilizing an upstream approach for youth suicide prevention. This upstream model strengthens multiple sources of support (protective factors) around young individuals so that when times get hard they have strengths to rely on.”

Each fall, the club’s co-advisors—myself and high school counselor Rick Pawlewicz—take our group of diverse peer leaders through a half-day training to learn about the mission and key messages of Sources Of Strength.

In becoming key “connectors” in their school, the peer leaders focus on identifying and utilizing eight different strengths in our lives: positive friends, healthy activities, family support, mentors, spirituality, generosity, medical access, and mental health. They share stories at weekly SOS meetings about struggles, stressors, and how they use personal sources of strength to get through tough times. Helping to break the silence around mental health, peer leaders actively seek out others to connect them with resources and to their own sources of strength. They continually send the message that it’s okay to talk about tough times, and that it’s essential to tap into our personal strengths and reach out for help.

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SOS peer leaders at Newfield High have created, facilitated, and engaged in countless messaging activities inside our school and in the wider community. The activities include simple, visual messages like posters, cards, videos, and social media posts; trivia games during all lunch periods; Sources of Strength Weeks; pep rallies; and the annual Extravaganzas—nights of fun on campus with games, music, art, and food. The peer leaders give community presentations on their activities, to the Newfield Central School District Board of Education and the Tompkins-Seneca-Tioga Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES). And, of course, hundreds of community members come out for the annual Color Run.

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We are proud of Newfield High School’s peer leaders and the mentors (teachers, staff, administrators, coaches, etc.) who support their efforts to promote hope, help, strength, and connections throughout every corner of our community. Our goal is that every student knows that they are not alone, and there is always help and support available.

—By Jamie McCaffrey

Jamie McCaffrey, LCSW is a social worker in the Newfield Central School District

Photos courtesy Jamie McCaffrey

 

Who Runs for Newfield High?

Fancy a splash of color in your life? We mean that literally! Come out and join the annual Color Run at 10 a.m. Saturday June 16 at Newfield High School. Participants in the five-kilometer trek (walkers and cheering supporters are welcome, too) are doused at eight intervals with colored, non-toxic cornstarch. All for a great cause: to support Newfield’s Sources of Strength, a school club dedicated to spreading hope, help, and strength in the community.

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Scene from Sources of Strength’s 2017 Color Run

Runners and walkers wearing white t-shirts pass through eight color stations, each one representing a “source of strength”: family support, positive friends, mentors, health activities, generosity, spirituality, medical access, and mental health.

Besides fostering community spirit, the event is a fundraiser for Sources of Strength, which promotes mental health and wellness for fellow students. The group meets regularly for rap sessions focused on promoting personal strengths and community-message brainstorming, and directs struggling students to helpful resources. It organizes de-stressor events like SOS Extravaganza, which turns the high school campus into a night-long party with movies, games, and snacks.

Click here for the sign-up form.

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Can Tompkins County Prevent Suicides?

Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain lived the American Dream—professional success, financial security, happy families. No wonder the nation was shocked to learn of their deaths by suicide last week. Were there warning signs? Spade’s husband revealed that the iconic fashion designer was receiving treatment for depression and anxiety. Bourdain’s mother said the celebrity chef and journalist was in a “dark mood” shortly before his death.

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To share current efforts to fight suicide in our community, the Tompkins County Suicide Prevention Coalition invites the general public to a presentation on the Zero Suicide Model. The presentation, by Olivia B. Retallack of the New York State Suicide Prevention Office, will take place from 2-3:30 p.m. Monday June 18 in the Borg Warner Room of the Tompkins County Public Library.

The Coalition has taken up the proposed adoption of the Zero Suicide Model as a priority. Zero Suicide is a set of strategies and tools for suicide prevention in health and behavioral health care systems. Zero Suicide argues that suicides can be prevented by closing cracks in healthcare systems—that “suicide deaths for individuals under care within health and behavioral health systems are preventable.”

Zero Suicide considers suicide prevention a core responsibility of healthcare. Specifically, this entails a systematic clinical approach in healthcare systems—training staff, screening for suicide ideation, utilizing evidence-based interventions, mandating continuous quality improvement, treating suicidality as a presenting problem—and not simply relying on the heroic efforts of crisis staff and individual clinicians.

As the Suicide Prevention Resource Center puts it: “The programmatic approach of Zero Suicide is based on the realization that suicidal individuals often fall through multiple cracks in a fragmented and sometimes distracted health care system, and on the premise that a systematic approach to quality improvement is necessary.”

Presentation on the Zero Suicide Model

Olivia B. Retallack

New York State Suicide Prevention Office

June 18, 2018   2–3:30 p.m.

Borg Warner Room

Tompkins County Public Library

To RSVP, click on the link: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/ZeroSuicidePresentation