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Suicide coalition shows us how to solve a crisis

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A year ago, our local communities were faced with a horrifying suicide rate and there didn't seem to be any way to meaningfully address the problem.

Fortunately, our local mental health professionals stepped into the void, worked together to come up with a comprehensive approach to this problem, and the results have been simply amazing. Suicides are down 75 percent in Chelan and Douglas counties in the first two months of the year compared to a year ago, said Dr. Julie Rickard of the Suicide Prevention Coalition.

What we can learn from this success is that seemingly impossible problems can be effectively addressed in our communities by working together and by taking the time to develop a meaningful approach.

Here's how it happened. Coalition members worked carefully and methodically to study the issues, analyze how our communities could respond differently and then began implementing a comprehensive, multi-faceted strategy to address the suicide issue. Lots of local resources were being expended to prevent suicide prior to the start of the coalition, but the efforts were disconnected, done in isolation and ineffective.

Rickard, who manages the behavioral medicine program at Columbia Valley Community Health, said some people in the community were frustrated that the coalition did not act more quickly to put programs in place but is convinced that taking time to properly analyze the issue has paid off. A community-wide training effort is in full swing and more than 600 people have been trained, from police officers, most of the City of Wenatchee staff to a variety of community groups from around the area. The training, which was paid for in part by a fundraising effort of the Wenatchee High School Interact Club, teaches individuals to intervene using a three-step method: Question, Persuade and Refer. Rickard expects at least 3,000 people will be trained by the end of the year.

Rickard it's the best training available and they have anecdotal reports of those who have been trained using it and referring potential victims. Studies have shown that people who are thinking about suicide provide clues that the people closest to them can and should react to. The goal of the training is to help people gain the knowledge and confidence to take seriously those signs and respond. It's also underscores the fact that suicide is a problem for all of us in the community, not just mental health providers.

In addition, a coalition committee has nearly completed an post-crisis response program that local schools can use to deal with emergencies, such as suicides. That assistance will no doubt be welcomed with open arms by school officials. Schools have been in a reactive mode when it comes to tragedies. As we have seen, public scrutiny by the media and community can be withering, sensational and counterproductive. Rickard hopes giving them a step-by-step approach will help them respond more effectively and appropriately.

The achievements of the coalition, which is targeting Chelan, Douglas, Okanogan and Grant counties, has been noticed by the state. The Department of Behavioral Health and Recovery called up out of the blue and offered $10,000 in funding for suicide prevention training, said Rickard.

What the Suicide Prevention Coalition has done can be applied to any other civic action — bring the right people together, build a comprehensive approach and use best practices as the guide. Working together for the common good, we can address any challenging issue at the local level. We just have to ignore the cacophony of voices in the national media and both political parties that would convince us otherwise.

The coalition has reminded us of the power we have to control our destiny at the local level.

You can sign up for a suicide prevention training by emailing spcncw@gmail.com. You can help out by liking their Facebook page.

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