CRESWELL – The Creswell Grange and South Lane Mental Health teamed up to offer free suicide awareness training to empower the community to make a difference in suicide prevention during Mental Health Awareness Month.
During the evening workshop earlier this week, participants learned how to prevent suicide by recognizing signs, engaging someone and connecting them to an intervention resource for further support if needed.
Earlier this year, Lane County Public Health released its report, Suicide in Lane County 2000-2020, which found that the rate of suicide in Lane County increased by 80%; in 2020 the rate of suicide in Lane County was 65% greater than the U.S. average; and the suicide rates in Cottage Grove, Florence, and Junction City were about twice the county average.
When Martin McClure, program director in Creswell, heard about the study, he was motivated to act.
“We hope people will learn how to recognize the signs that someone is suffering from mental health issues, how to reach out to the person, and how they can assist the person to access professional resources that can help,” McClure said.
While teen suicide rates are significantly lower than adults, McClure said he hopes that the program benefited the community as a whole.
“When people are suffering from mental health issues, they often will not tell anyone,” McClure said. “If family and friends know how to recognize the symptoms and know how to reach out to the person having mental health issues, the person is more likely to get the help they need to get well and not have a bad outcome.”
Said Creswell Grange president Patrick Dearth: “Teen mental health is an issue throughout the US. Our youth here in Creswell are not immune to the challenges being faced by young people across the country.”
Rebecca Fitkin, MA, South Lane Mental Health Outpatient Team Manager, works with adults, families and youth in crisis every day. She took the lead coordinating the program.
“We’re talking about this as empowerment. Empowering youth to be able to talk about this with their grownups, as well as empowering the grownups to be able to talk to their youth about what this is. And empowering the community to be able to manage it,” she said. “We’re not without resources, we have each other, there’s all kinds of things that we can do to to respond when somebody is having some suicidal behaviors or thoughts, and it doesn’t have to be scary.”
Fitkin says that parents can gain confidence in asking people about suicide directly, connecting them to life-saving resources and keeping an individual safe until those resources take over.
“During the program, I give some examples of what an assessment might cover, so that folks won’t be surprised if they are taking their kid to the emergency department, because the questions can feel invasive sometimes. I’m going to use and define language that’s clinical so it’s not as scary when it’s translated and broken down.”
Fitkin has worked in youth mental health services for nearly 15 years, and says she’s seen a shift in the conversation.
“I do think the culture is shifting around suicide prevention,” she said. “I think one of the reasons that there’s been a reduction is because there’s more information. I work with several youth who check in with each other, hold each other accountable and look out for each other.”
For South Lane Mental Health executive director Alison Canino, programs like this one can act as a bridge for broader community conversations about suicide awareness, as well as provide an alternative to traditional therapy.
“One of the things this conversation will do for us and the community is to remind folks they have resources outside of (SLMH) and our crisis line. This isn’t a mystery we don’t know how to fix, there’s good statistics about interventions and support. So we want to demystify this so that if there is a crisis, people know what to do,” she said.
South Lane Mental Health has recently capped its waiting list and is unable to support more clients. Canino says programs like these are a great way to fill that gap.
“There’s a behavioral health workforce shortage, in Lane County, in Oregon and across the country,” she said. “As a community, South Lane, whether it’s Creswell or Cottage Grove or
Dorena, we come together in a pinch — and our programs embrace that. This program recognizes that suicide or suicidal thoughts hits all of us closer than you might think. For a lot of us, we don’t have to look that hard to find somebody in our community who has been impacted by it. So we want to encourage folks to be curious and not shut down these conversations, just because they are scary.”