Carlton County group addresses suicide prevention

The meeting room at the Carlton County Transportation Building was filled with some 60 people at last Thursday's gathering of the Suicide Prevention Task Force.

The meeting room at the Carlton County Transportation Building was filled with some 60 people at last Thursday's gathering of the Suicide Prevention Task Force.

The second of three such sessions, the purpose of the community meeting was to formulate a strategy to maximize use of a Suicide Prevention Grant secured through the Minnesota Department of Health.

And to be sure, the evening had its share of emotions as well.

"Suicide touches us all," attested Meghann Condit, Carlton County public health educator and suicide prevention coordinator. "As you know, suicide has touched those of us in Carlton County profoundly over the past two years."

Condit was referring to the deaths by suicide of two local high school students, though it is likely many more suicides took place in the county and surrounding areas without garnering so high a degree of public notice.


According to SAVE (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education), there is a suicide every 17 minutes in the United States and an attempted suicide every 39 seconds. In fact, suicide is the 11th leading cause of death among Americans and the third leading cause among adolescents.

And yet, the stigma, misinformation, and sometimes even false glorification, that surround suicide continue to sustain those numbers at an alarmingly high rate.

Condit reported that worldwide, the United Nations World Health Organization estimates that suicide deaths each year are more numerous than those from combat, terrorism or any other form of violence.

To address, and hopefully stem the tide of, suicide attempts, deaths by suicide and the factors leading up to them, a partnership among Carlton County Public Health and Human Services, Carlton County Children and Family Services Collaborative, the Human Development Center and Fond du Lac Health and Human Services, joined together to pursue funding through the Suicide Prevention Grant.

Now the planning partnership is meeting with community members who are in a position to touch the lives of persons who may be depressed or suicidal to determine just which direction to pursue in addressing suicide prevention.

Attendees not only included health professionals, but law enforcement officers, educators, counselors, service organizations, the faith community, senior citizens services, the media and veterans services.

Public Health and Human Services supervisor Terri Allen reported that just since this group met the last time, one of the attendees reported that someone she knew committed suicide, and another of them indicated she was able to utilize some of the things discussed to help find resources for a 13-year-old who may have been headed toward suicide.

Allen went on to discuss various "tools for community action" valuable in understanding suicide and its prevention, including raising public awareness and education.


For example, it's important to know that the commonly held fact that life events are a major cause of suicide is inaccurate. Rather, studies show the number one cause of suicide is a chemical imbalance in the brain leading to depression that all too often goes untreated, making it as much a medical condition as a social or mental health issue.

Allen said some of the stigma surrounding depression and suicide, and one of the reasons many people don't seek help to prevent it, is due to just such misunderstandings.

Allen also advocated the importance of a method called "QPR" - question, persuade and refer - when dealing with people who may be profoundly depressed or who relay some hint that they may be contemplating suicide.

"We have to stress the importance of keeping connected, recognizing the signs of depression, and reaching out to people," agreed social worker Kathy Lingren. "You may be that one person who might make a difference in someone's life."

The second half of the meeting was devoted to small group brainstorming sessions to determine possible ways to address suicide prevention among youth, adults and seniors. At the conclusion of the evening, each group reported suggested action measures identified by their respective groups.

Some of the suggestions to help young people access help and resources included support groups, peer ministry, guest speakers or "kid-to-kid" speakers, a confidential "hotline" number to call for help, student awareness events in schools, and utilizing social networking sites and text messaging to provide information, support and referrals, especially for the "hidden" population of young people who are reluctant to talk publicly about their feelings.

One participant suggested that physicians be mandated to include a basic mental health assessment as part of a routine school or sports physical, and another advocated that suicide support hotlines should be advertised through highly visible means such as billboards or bathroom stalls.

Another key strategy identified was to educate and train parents, possibly through such means as the "parent portal" of the school's Web site, regarding symptoms to watch for in potentially troubled teens.


Participants suggested senior citizens, who are typically the highest at-risk population for suicide, could be reached through educational programs in senior centers, screenings at local health fairs, information at pharmacies, crisis lines and education on how physical ailments can be linked to depression.

Some of the suggestions for reaching adults to help prevent suicide included routine questioning by health professionals, a speakers bureau to provide information to groups, and QPR training for professionals, community members and students.

The final session of the series, slated for 5 p.m.Thursday, Dec. 4, at the County Transportation Building, will deal with prioritizing these goals with an eye toward funding three major initiatives to address suicide prevention in the community. A similar series of workshops will be held on the Fond du Lac Reservation in spring 2009.

For more information, contact Condit at 218-879-4511.

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