Tag: suicide prevention

What we learned from the #30Days30Stories project in 2022 

Thirty storytellers shared their stories of struggles with mental health and how they are finding resilience as part of Lost&Found’s 30 Days, 30 Stories project, which was part of National Suicide Prevention Month in September. Here, we reflect on what we learned from the project.

 

1. Finding storytellers was easier than it was in our first year, but challenges remain.

  • From staff members and partners in the mental health profession, we were able to come up with a list of more than 50 names of potential storytellers. “People are waiting to tell their stories; we just have to ask them to do so,” said L&F Community Engagement Manager Joel Kaskinen. “In our second year of this campaign, I found it easier to find people to share their stories, which tells me our communities are more open to sharing and the stigma around mental illness and suicide is decreasing.”
  • While getting stories, photos, and videos from about 20 storytellers from our list of potential storytellers was fairly straightforward, finding the last 10 was more difficult. Some potential storytellers didn’t feel it was the right time to tell their stories. Five people submitted stories, but we were unable to follow up to schedule photos with them. “Recruiting seemed rushed at the end,” said Prevention Programming Specialist Melissa Renes. “I would suggest offering the opportunity year-round and making it more normalized to share instead of requesting stories later in the year.”

 

2. We made improvements in recruiting stories that represent the diversity in our communities.

“I think the attempt to find diverse stories helped show that we were inclusive, and that mental health does not discriminate,” Renes said. “It put faces to the work we are doing.”

  • One significant improvement was telling more stories from the LGBTQIA2S+ community. More than 30 percent of storytellers indicated they are something other than heterosexual (including “prefer not to disclose”). This is important, because surveys (such as this one from the Trevor Project) indicate that LGBTQIA2S+ individuals are at higher risk for suicide. Telling these stories empowers the storytellers and helps to foster understanding empathy and understanding in the rest of society.
  • Our storyteller demographics in terms of race were not yet representative of the state as a whole or of the demographics of suicide in South Dakota. Native Americans make up 8.5 percent of South Dakota residents, and 20 percent of suicides in South Dakota (2012-21) were of Native Americans; just 1, or 3 percent, of our storytellers was Native. We had stories from three additional Native Americans but were unable to connect with them for photos and videos, which suggests we need to work on our process to accommodate people who might have difficulty traveling or taking off from work to meet us for a photo shoot. We hope to be able to connect with some or all of those storytellers for next year’s project.
  • We didn’t have as many stories as we’d hoped from people in our target age group. Sixty percent were in the target age group of 10-34. Forty percent of our storytellers were 35 to 54. We definitely value stories of resilience from people of any age, but it would be nice to have more stories from people who are in our target demographic.
  • While we improved in our gender balance from last year, 70 percent of our storytellers were women. “Young women are the most willing to share their stories,” Kaskinen said. “Women aged 10-34 was also the demographic that we reached most through social media.” We will continue to work to break through the limiting “tough guy” stereotype that men can’t talk about their mental health.

 

3. Storytellers gave a wide variety of resources that helped them find resilience.

“The resources showcased emphasized that when looking at recovery and maintaining positive mental health, there is not a one-size-fits-all approach,” Renes said. The categories of resources suggested were professional mental health care (31 percent), family and friends (20 percent), other strategies (20 percent), support groups (14 percent), educational resources (10 percent) and crisis resources (4 percent). (Most storytellers cited more than one resource.)

  • Storytellers cited professional mental health care (in a variety of forms) most often when they listed resources that had helped them. While it’s wonderful that people have found help through professional services, this makes it that much more important to try to get more people into the mental health profession. There are not enough people to meet the need currently.

 

4. Storytellers shared a message of hope: It is possible to improve mental health.

  • The path from a dark place to a better place varies greatly from person to person, but it often starts with communication. This communication can come from person struggling: Speaking up about what is going on with them, connecting with a resource, or asking for help. But storytellers often welcomed the care of a friend or family member to start the conversation, and they wished more people had voiced their care and concern. “A theme I noticed throughout stories was that people wished more had talked to them, or they would have liked to know more resources were there,” Renes said.

 

The project had an impressive 183,455 impressions across all media! Here are some additional statistics on the reach of the project through the web, social media, and the Great Minds with Lost&Found podcast:

 

This image lists website, social media, and podcast statistics for the 30 Days, 30 Stories campaign, including for the website, podcasts, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube. The most impressive stat is total impressions across all media: 183,455.

 

Great Minds with Lost&Found podcast: Overcoming Loss with Billie & Kelsea Sutton

Content Warning: Great Minds with Lost&Found episodes contain mature themes, including mental health, suicide, addiction, and others that may not be appropriate for all audiences. Listener discretion is advised.
The Suttons are no stranger to loss. From a rodeo accident that left Billie paralyzed from the waist down to losing a gubernatorial election and finally the death of their daughter, Billie and Kelsea know what loss feels like and the toll it takes mentally. They share their journey with loss (and gain) in this episode of Great Minds with Lost&Found. If someone can be the testament to how much you can gain from losing it all, the Suttons are it.
This episode is part of Lost&Found’s annual #30Days30Stories digital storytelling campaign for #NationalSuicidePreventionMonth. With goals of increasing awareness of mental health challenges, empowering others to share their stories, and providing resources for support, this campaign is a major part of Lost&Found’s advocacy strategy. Read all stories shared through this campaign at 30stories.org.

To learn more about the work that Lost&Found is doing to prevent suicide among youth and young adults, go to resilienttoday.org.  Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube (@resilienttoday).

Listen on Spotify or find other listening options on Anchor.

You can also watch this episode on YouTube.

Great Minds with Lost&Found podcast: We Can Do More to Prevent Suicide with Jake Danielson

Jake Danielson speaks on the Great Minds with Lost&Found podcast.

Content Warning: Great Minds with Lost&Found episodes contain mature themes, including mental health, suicide, addiction, and others that may not be appropriate for all audiences. Listener discretion is advised.
Jake Danielson is a South Dakotan living with anxiety, depression, psychosis, and other mental health challenges. He has survived multiple suicide attempts, has been in and out of treatment, and has recently started a movement inspiring others to share their stories of mental health struggles. In this episode, Jake chats with host Joel Kaskinen about these challenges, how being a college athlete impacted his mental health, what gets him through his toughest days, and his work with the We Can Movement.
This episode is part of Lost&Found’s annual #30Days30Stories digital storytelling campaign for #NationalSuicidePreventionMonth. With goals of increasing awareness of mental health challenges, empowering others to share their stories, and providing resources for support, this campaign is a major part of Lost&Found’s advocacy strategy. Read all stories shared through this campaign at 30stories.org.

To learn more about the work that Lost&Found is doing to prevent suicide among youth and young adults, go to resilienttoday.org.  Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube (@resilienttoday).

Listen on Spotify or find other listening options on Anchor.

You can also watch this episode on YouTube.

Great Minds with Lost&Found podcast: How Social Media Impacts Mental Health with Gabe Dannenbring

Joel Kaskinen and Gabe Dannenbring talk during the Great Minds with Lost&Found podcast.

Content Warning: Great Minds with Lost&Found episodes contain mature themes, including mental health, suicide, addiction, and others that may not be appropriate for all audiences. Listener discretion is advised.
You may know Gabe Dannenbring as “that teacher from TikTok,” but Gabe is so much more than just an influencer. Gabe is a local South Dakotan, former college athlete, and human who struggles with mental health challenges just like the rest of us. In this episode of Great Minds, Gabe shares his experiences with mental health, how social media “fame” has impacted his wellbeing, and how he teaches his students to use social media in a healthy way.
This episode is part of Lost&Found’s annual #30Days30Stories digital storytelling campaign for #NationalSuicidePreventionMonth. With goals of increasing awareness of mental health challenges, empowering others to share their stories, and providing resources for support, this campaign is a major part of Lost&Found’s advocacy strategy. Read all stories shared through this campaign at 30stories.org.

To learn more about the work that Lost&Found is doing to prevent suicide among youth and young adults, go to resilienttoday.org.  Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube (@resilienttoday).

Listen on Spotify or find other listening options on Anchor.

You can also watch this episode on YouTube.

Great Minds with Lost&Found podcast: Learning from Broken Systems with Cherokee McAlpine

Content Warning: Great Minds with Lost&Found episodes contain mature themes, including mental health, suicide, addiction, and others that may not be appropriate for all audiences. Listener discretion is advised.
In this episode of Great Minds with Lost&Found, host Joel Kaskinen chats with Cherokee McAlpine about her lived experiences with mental illness, the foster care system, and healthcare. Surviving a turbulent childhood of abuse, trauma, drugs and alcohol, rape, and multiple suicide attempts, Cherokee now shares her story with others in hopes that they will have a greater understanding of the needs children in similar situations have. Cherokee is a soon-to-be mother, working with youth, and striving to provide them with a better life than the one she had growing up.
This episode is part of Lost&Found’s annual #30Days30Stories digital storytelling campaign for #NationalSuicidePreventionMonth. With goals of increasing awareness of mental health challenges, empowering others to share their stories, and providing resources for support, this campaign is a major part of Lost&Found’s advocacy strategy. Read all stories shared through this campaign at 30stories.org.

To learn more about the work that Lost&Found is doing to prevent suicide among youth and young adults, go to resilienttoday.org.  Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube (@resilienttoday).

Listen on Spotify or find other listening options on Anchor.

You can also watch this episode on YouTube.

Great Minds with Lost&Found podcast: Strengthening Systems of Care with Lindsey McCarthy

Lindsey McCarthy, Executive Director of Southern Plains Behavioral Health Services, a South Dakota-based agency fulfilling social and emotional health needs in the community.  Using the CDC’s seven strategies for preventing suicide found in their technical package for suicide prevention to guide our work, we asked Lindsey how SPBHS is utilizing these same strategies in their services, which include psychiatric care, counseling, case management, systems of care, community education, crisis intervention and emergency services, trauma support, and so much more.

To learn more about the work that Lost&Found is doing to prevent suicide among youth and young adults, go to resilienttoday.org. To learn more about the work that Southern Plains Behavioral Health Services is doing to strengthen access and delivery of suicide care in South Dakota, go to spbhs.net. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube (@resilienttoday).

Listen on Spotify or find other listening options on Anchor.

You can also watch this episode on YouTube.

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Great Minds with Lost&Found podcast: Support for Historically At-Risk Populations: From Striving to Thriving with Taneeza Islam

Taneeza Islam, Executive Director of South Dakota Voices for Peace, a Sioux Falls-based nonprofit with an aim to dismantle bigotry and racism targeting refugee, immigrant, and Muslim communities, is on the show to talk about how SDVFP’s services help to support our work of prevention, intervention, and postvention of suicide, among a population at great risk, especially in South Dakota. Using the CDC’s seven strategies for preventing suicide found in their technical package for suicide prevention, to guide our work, we asked Taneeza to think through the work that SDVFP does to strengthen economic supports for the communities she serves and how we can do more by working together, rather than in silos.

To learn more about the work that Lost&Found is doing to prevent suicide among youth and young adults, go to resilienttoday.org. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube (@resilienttoday).

Listen on Spotify or find other listening options on Anchor.

You can also watch this episode on YouTube.

Great Minds with Lost&Found podcast: The Economic Impact of Suicide with Brad Hearst

Brad Hearst, Founder and President of Survivors Joining for Hope, a newly acquired program of Lost&Found’s, is on the show to talk about the economics of prevention, intervention, and postvention of suicide.

Using the The CDC’s seven strategies for preventing suicide found in their technical package for suicide prevention, to guide his work, Brad shares how increasing economic supports can be a protective factor against suicide. We get into the ways finances and economics can be both risk factors and protective factors for prevention, depending on the situation.

To learn more about the work that Lost&Found is doing to prevent suicide among youth and young adults, go to resilienttoday.org. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube (@resilienttoday).

Great Minds with Lost&Found podcast: What It Means to Have Pride in Suicide Prevention with Cody Ingle

In this conversation, Cody Ingle shares his perspective on suicide prevention from the lens of someone who has working in the LGBTQ+ space and identifies as a gay man. We break down social structures and chat about systems that impact the queer community and how that leads to increased risk of suicide.

To learn more about suicide risk and impact on the LGBTQ+ community, check out the following link from the Trevor Project – trevor01_2022survey_final.pdf.

To learn more about the work that Lost&Found is doing to prevent suicide among youth and young adults, go to resilienttoday.org. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube (@resilienttoday).

Great Minds with Lost&Found podcast: Reimagining Systems of Prevention with Erik Muckey

In the kickoff to season 2 of Great Minds with Lost&Found, Erik Muckey, CEO and Executive Director of Lost&Found is on the show to discuss the work L&F does to prevent suicide among youth and young adults (10-34) using the seven strategies outlined by the CDC (Preventing Suicide: A Technical Package of Policy, Programs, and Practices). To effectively prevent suicide, systems currently in place must be reimagined to be inclusive of all people. How does that happen and what does that look like? We dive into that in this conversation.

To learn more about the work that Lost&Found is doing to prevent suicide among youth and young adults, go to resilienttoday.org. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube (@resilienttoday).

Start the Conversation: 2022 Suicide Prevention Conference

Suicide Prevention Conference - header

Celebrate South Dakota’s successful and impactful suicide prevention work. This conference will provide additional tools and resources for suicide prevention and stigma reduction related to mental health.

Key speakers include:

  • KEITH HOTLE – Keith is the Chief Program Officer at Stop Soldier Suicide. He provides leadership in suicide prevention, personal empowerment and health promotion for veterans, active military and their families.
  • DR. SCOTT POLAND – Dr. Poland is a licensed psychologist and an internationally recognized expert in school safety, youth suicide, self-injury, bullying, school crisis prevention, intervention, threat assessment and parenting in challenging times.
  • BEVERLY BEUERMANN-KLING – Beverly Beuermann-Kling is a resilience and wellness strategist who uses or S-O-S Principle to help people control their reactions to stress, build resiliency against life’s challenges and live MORE.
  • DIANA CORTEZ YANEZ – As a multiple attempt suicide survivor, Diana has a mission to save lives by educating and informing health institutions and families on how to connect, support, and transform systems and communication to better aid those in crisis.
  • DR. HEATHER AYN IDELICATO – Heather Ayn Indelicato, PsyD. (“Dr. I”) is a licensed psychologist. She led the Zero Suicide Implementation Team at Tséhootsooi Medical Center (TMC) on the Navajo Reservation. The team was distinguished as a national leader in providing culturally informed, suicide safer practices.

This event is hosted by the South Dakota Suicide Prevention Workgroup with funding from the Department of Social Services and Department of Health.

This two-day conference will be held on August 11th from 10:00am-5:00pm CST and August 12th from 8:00am-12:00pm CST, with an optional training opportunity from 12:00pm-1:00pm CST.

Register at Start the Conversation: 2022 Suicide Prevention Conference Registration, Sioux Falls | Eventbrite.

Suicide as a Public Health Concern: History and Strategies for Prevention

Editor’s Note: Lost&Found is beginning a regular series of articles and podcasts about research and best practices in mental health, resilience, and suicide prevention. This first article is an overview of the idea of suicide prevention as something that requires a public health approach, as well as of the seven prevention strategies that our work is based on. 

 

 

cover page of Suicide as a Public Health Concern article

Read and download this article as a printable PDF by clicking on the image above.

“Suicide is a public health problem,” U.S. Surgeon General Satcher wrote in 1999, adding that suicide prevention requires a public health approach.

While suicide is—by definition—an individual act, suicide affects and is influenced by all levels of society—individuals, their relationships, communities, and society as a whole. This understanding of suicide as part of a larger system is the basis for the suicide prevention strategies developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and those strategies in turn are the basis for the programs developed and implemented by Lost&Found.

This article gives a brief history of this approach to suicide prevention and an overview of the CDC’s seven suicide prevention strategies. Future articles will look more closely at the seven strategies and the Lost&Found programs that are working to carry them out.

 

Suicide prevention as a societal concern: A brief history

Who can prevent a suicide?

If you had asked this question in 1958, when the first suicide prevention center in the United States opened in Los Angeles (Morris, 2011), the answers probably would have been limited to a small circle of people: The people with suicidal ideation themselves; perhaps the people closest to them, who may have noticed signs or who were confided in; and those who were trained in crisis intervention.

The rest of society could sympathize and support, perhaps, but for most people, there was no active role to play unless (and one hoped it never happened) thoughts of suicide struck them or a loved one.

By the late 1990s, that view was changing. A key pivot point was in 1998, when stakeholders gathered in Reno, Nevada, for the first National Suicide Prevention Conference (U.S. Public Health Service, 2001), which resulted in 81 recommendations for action. The key points from the conference indicated a shift in suicide prevention from solely focusing on individuals to recognizing the role that society more broadly could play in preventing suicide:

  1. Suicide prevention must recognize and affirm the value, dignity, and importance of each person.
  2. Suicide is not solely the result of illness or inner conditions. The feelings of hopelessness that contribute to suicide can stem from societal conditions and attitudes. Therefore, everyone concerned with suicide prevention shares a responsibility to help change attitudes and eliminate the conditions of oppression, racism, homophobia, discrimination, and prejudice.
  3. Some groups are disproportionately affected by these societal conditions, and some are at greater risk for suicide.
  4. Individuals, communities, organizations, and leaders at all levels should collaborate to promote suicide prevention.
  5. The success of this strategy ultimately rests with individuals and communities across the United States. (Office of the Surgeon General, 2012)

In 1999, then-U.S. Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher issued a national call to action developed from the findings from the Reno conference. It included this explanation of a view of suicide prevention that looks beyond the individual:

“Suicide is a public health problem that requires an evidence-based approach to prevention. In concert with the clinical medical approach, which explores the history and health conditions that could lead to suicide in a single individual, the public health approach focuses on identifying and understanding patterns of suicide and suicidal behavior throughout a group or population. The public health approach defines the problem, identifies risk factors and causes of the problem, develops interventions evaluated for effectiveness, and implements such interventions widely in a variety of communities.” (U.S. Public Health Service, 1999)

In 2000, a Federal Steering Group was formed to respond to this call to action, which resulted in the publication of the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention in 2001. It included 11 goals and 68 objectives based on the framework Satcher had put forward in the call to action. The strategy document was a planted flag of sorts for those working in suicide prevention, giving them a common understanding and language to work from, as well as a way to direct attention and resources to suicide prevention efforts. One result of this strategy, for example, was the development of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-TALK/8255), which connects callers to a responder at the closest crisis center.

 

Gathering evidence and best practices

Over the past 21 years, the public health understanding of suicide prevention has increasingly shaped the progress and development of the field, and researchers have gathered evidence of what public health approaches are effective. In 2017, the CDC published Preventing Suicide: A Technical Package of Policy, Programs, and Practices (Stone et al, 2017). Like other technical packages produced by the CDC, the document compiles a set of strategies that communities can use to achieve a desired outcome—in this case, the prevention of suicide—along with specific approaches to advance the strategy, as well as evidence for why those strategies work. This technical package guides much of the suicide prevention work happening now across the United States, including the programs offered by Lost&Found.

Dr. Deb Stone of the Division of Violence Prevention at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is one of the authors of the technical package and spoke with Lost&Found in a phone interview (Stone D., 2022).

The process of creating the technical package involved a review of the literature and many conversations with subject matter experts, Stone explained. “We really looked for programs, practices, and policies that showed evidence for reducing actual suicide or suicide attempts, or that impacted on suicide risk and protective factors. The evidence we found … had to come from rigorous scientific studies such as meta-analyses or systematic reviews, or from randomized, controlled trials, just to name a few of the types of studies that we were looking at.”

The public health approach underlying this work meant that the researchers had a broad view of whom to target with their efforts. This includes people all along the timeline of a suicide.

“We knew that we needed to find strategies that would help to prevent suicide risk in the first place—sometimes called primary prevention or upstream prevention,” Stone said. “We wanted to help support people who were already at increased risk, and then also work to prevent re-attempts among people who may have attempted, and help support people who have suffered a suicide loss.”

Another viewpoint that is critical to the understanding of suicide prevention, Stone said, is recognizing that, while suicide is an individual act and is influenced by factors in that individual, it is also influenced by factors in a person’s relationships, the community, and society at large.

“The contributors or the causes of suicide occur at the individual, relationship, community, and societal levels, and those four levels comprise the social ecological model,” Stone said.

For example, at the individual level, people with mental health challenges, substance use, or who have attempted suicide in the past are at increased risk of suicide. At the relationship level, a recent breakup, the death of a loved one, or having been the victim of violence increase risk. At the community level, increased risk can result from difficulty accessing mental health care. And at the societal level, suicide risk is affected by whether policies allow easy access to lethal means such as firearms and medications, as well as societal stigmas around mental illness or seeking help.

“To have the biggest impact, we may need to consider strategies that will address factors across all these levels,” Stone said. “Sometimes, that’s where we get stuck, because we might only focus on one thing, but we really need to be taking a broader perspective and a broader approach.”

This wider view can help to combat a common misconception about suicide—that it is based on a single factor.

“In our desire to understand why someone would take their own life, we sometimes rush to conclusions and point to one thing,” Stone said. “But this really minimizes what the person was going through, and data tell us … that there are many factors involved. And so, if we’re going to prevent suicide, we really need to consider all of these factors.”

Another common misconception about suicide is that a person who dies by suicide was weak or selfish, and an evidence-based public health approach suggests ways to combat this misconception as well.

“People who are struggling with thoughts of suicide are in immense emotional and sometimes physical pain. And this pain is typically related to the culmination or a confluence of many factors. So when you’re in this level of pain, the options and the solutions can become so narrowed that suicide may seem to be the only way out,” Stone said. “We want to prevent people from ever getting to the point of having a crisis like that. We want to prevent situations that spurred these crises from occurring in the first place.

“But if we are past that point, there’s still a lot we can do to help people. We can help destigmatize getting help … and we can make sure that professionals are equipped with ways of helping people in suicidal crisis by training on effective approaches for suicide prevention. And then we can all, working together in a society, learn the warning signs and ask the hard questions. ‘Are you thinking about suicide?’ We know that this will not put the thought in someone’s head, and it can actually break the silence that is so detrimental.”

 

The CDC’s seven strategies for suicide prevention

The CDC’s technical package on suicide prevention distills its recommendations into seven strategies that “are intended to work in combination and reinforce each other to prevent suicide,” according to the document (Stone et al, 2017, p. 12). The strategies, as a whole, approach suicide prevention at all four levels of the social ecological model (individual, relationships, communities, and society).

What follows is a summary of each of these strategies from the CDC document and one or two key approaches to implementing that strategy.

 

Strategy 1: Strengthen economic supports.

Economic and financial strain, such as job loss, long periods of unemployment, reduced income, difficulty covering medical, food, and housing expenses, and even the anticipation of such financial stress may increase an individual’s risk for suicide or may indirectly increase risk by exacerbating related physical and mental health problems. Buffering these risks can, therefore, potentially protect against suicide. (Stone et al, 2017, p. 15)

“We sometimes forget the real devastation that can impact people and that people can feel due to financial and economic concerns,” Stone said.

Some of the ways to improve those situations and help prevent suicide include increases to the minimum wage and policies that allow people to stay in their homes or find secure housing.

 

Strategy 2: Strengthen access and delivery of suicide care.

[M]ental illness is an important risk factor for suicide. State-level suicide rates have also been found to be correlated with general mental health measures such as depression. Findings from the National Comorbidity Survey indicate that relatively few people in the U.S. with mental health disorders receive treatment for those conditions. (Stone et al, 2017, p. 19)

“This strategy is focused on making sure that all people have access to quality care, especially in underserved areas such a rural communities, and that once people are engaged in care, that they don’t fall through the proverbial cracks as they transition in and out of the healthcare system,” Stone said.

One approach for implementing this strategy is remote mental health care, also called telemental health, which became more common during the Covid-19 pandemic. Another is ensuring that mental health conditions are covered in health insurance policies.

 

Strategy 3: Create protective environments.

Prevention efforts that focus not only on individual behavior change (e.g., help-seeking, treatment interventions) but on changes to the environment can increase the likelihood of positive behavioral and health outcomes. Creating environments that address risk and protective factors where individuals live, work, and play can help prevent suicide. (Stone et al, 2017, p. 23)

One way in which the environment can be addressed in terms of suicide prevention is access to lethal means.

“We know that reducing access to lethal means such as a firearms, especially among people at risk of suicide, can really make all of the difference in saving someone’s life,” Stone said, because “putting time and space between someone who is thinking about suicide and the means to carry it out is absolutely critical.”

Another approach is improving policies and social norms around help seeking—both allowing and encouraging people to take time off from work to seek mental health care, for example.

 

Strategy 4: Promote connectedness.

[S]tudies suggest a positive association between social capital (as measured by social trust and community/neighborhood engagement), and improved mental health. Connectedness and social capital together may protect against suicidal behaviors by decreasing isolation, encouraging adaptive coping behaviors, and by increasing belongingness, personal value, and worth, to help build resilience in the face of adversity. Connectedness can also provide individuals with better access to formal supports and resources. (Stone et al, 2017, p. 27)

“As far back as the late 1880s, we had this great sociologist, Emile Durkheim, who told us that social connectedness … is a protective factor. And what that means is that it can protect people from ever becoming suicidal in the first place, and it can reduce the chances that someone would ever attempt suicide,” Stone said.

Stone would like to see more research in this area, since the limited research on connectedness and mental health is promising. For example, people working together on a community greening initiative showed reductions in anxiety and depression. “In addition, pride in the community would increase, and people would support each other through those kinds of engagement activities,” she said.

The Covid-19 pandemic limited our usual ways of connecting, which shows what can happen when the connectedness we typically rely on isn’t available: Anxiety and depression increased 25 percent worldwide in the first year of the pandemic, according to a brief by the World Health Organization (Brunier, 2022). The stress of social isolation was cited as one of the causes.

 

Strategy 5: Teach coping and problem-solving skills.

The inability to employ adequate strategies to cope with immediate stressors or identify and find solutions for problems has been characterized among suicide attempters. Teaching and providing youth with the skills to tackle everyday challenges and stressors is, therefore, an important developmental component to suicide prevention. (Stone et al, 2017, p. 31)

“We know that teaching people—not just kids, but kids and adults—how to cope and solve conflicts can really go a long way to preventing crises that sometimes escalate to the point that someone is thinking about suicide,” Stone said. “It’s not often discussed, but problems in relationships such as bullying or breakups or other kinds of conflicts are some of the most common contributors to suicide. And many of us were, frankly, never really taught how to cope with conflict or how to problem-solve. But the good news is that there are skills that we can all learn and excel at with practice.”

Programs that teach these life skills to children are having payoffs down the road in preventing the risk of suicide and other adverse outcomes. These programs could be scaled up and expanded to reach more people, including adults, Stone said.

 

Strategy 6: Identify and support people at risk.

In order to decrease suicide, care of, and attention to, vulnerable populations is necessary, as these groups tend to experience suicidal behavior at higher than average rates. Such vulnerable populations include, but are not limited to, individuals with lower socio-economic status or who are living with a mental health problem; people who have previously attempted suicide; veterans and active duty military personnel; individuals who are institutionalized, have been victims of violence, or are homeless; individuals of sexual minority status; and members of certain racial and ethnic minority groups. (Stone et al, 2017, p. 35)

This strategy works to support people who are at high risk of suicide or who are known to have thoughts of suicide. The good news is that treatments are showing great promise in helping with mental health conditions and reducing the suicide risk.

“The evidence for different forms of therapy, such as cognitive behavior therapy, especially with collaborative care components, is really mounting, and that’s really exciting,” Stone said.

An approach to implement this strategy is to continue the research for these programs and to provide more training for practitioners.

 

Strategy 7: Lessen harms and prevent future risk.

Millions of people are bereaved by suicide every year in the United States and throughout the world. Risk of suicide and suicide risk factors has been shown to increase among people who have lost a friend/peer, family member, co-worker, or other close contact to suicide. Care and attention to the bereaved is therefore of high importance. Despite often good intentions, media and others responding to suicide may add to this risk. (Stone et al, 2017, p. 41)

This strategy aims to help people after a suicide has taken place. This includes people who were directly connected to the person who died by suicide, ensuring that they receive support and can access professional mental health care if they need it. This strategy also includes those in the community or society more broadly who hear that a suicide has happened. One important way to implement this strategy is to learn better ways to talk about suicide, especially for those in the media.

“We still have a long way to go in safe reporting,” Stone said. “This really means avoiding sensationalizing a suicide, describing the details or means of suicide, or glamorizing somebody who died by suicide, because we know that those things can inadvertently increase risk for people who may be vulnerable or thinking about suicide themselves. … This is an area where we can continue to promote positive messaging and resources and make sure to get people the help that they need.”

 

Looking ahead

A lot has happened in the world and in the field of suicide prevention in the nearly five years since the CDC’s technical package of suicide prevention strategies was released. While not all the developments have been positive, many significant findings and events of the past five years have strengthened the evidence for and emphasized the importance of a public health approach to suicide prevention.

Perhaps the biggest change has come from the Covid-19 pandemic, which changed the way that people live, work, and gather with friends and family. Many have died from the virus, so many others are dealing with grief; many are dealing with poorer health because of long Covid; and many immunocompromised people remain socially isolated because the risk of Covid remains high for them. These changes have affected mental health across the globe (World Health Organization, 2022). “There are increases in anxiety and substance use and distress, and even in suicidal thinking, particularly among young people but also among people who have been disproportionately impacted by Covid-19,” Stone said.

The CDC is working on a new release of the technical package, to be made public sometime this year. The seven strategies will remain, Stone said, backed up by new evidence. Some of this is based on improvements in data collection—researchers now have the ability to track and monitor data related to suicide ideation and suicide attempts in closer to real time, Stone said, and machine learning can help to forecast suicide trends in the future. New studies have also provided additional evidence to support some of the programs and policies recommended in the 2017 report, as well as evidence to support new programs and policies.

Stone is also looking forward to the way that the development and promotion of a three-digit number (988) for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline will increase support for people with suicidal thoughts. That number will go live in July.

“We have a long way to go, but we’re certainly making great strides to help individuals and communities reduce this incredible burden of suicide,” Stone said.

 

References

Brunier, A. D. (2022, March 2). Covid-19 pandemic triggers 25% increase in prevalance of anxiety and depression worldwide. Retrieved from World Health Organization website: https://www.who.int/news/item/02-03-2022-covid-19-pandemic-triggers-25-increase-in-prevalence-of-anxiety-and-depression-worldwide

Morris, L. (2011). History of the Suicide Prevention Center. Los Angeles Suicide Prevention Summit, (pp. 5-6). Los Angeles, CA. Retrieved from http://file.lacounty.gov/SDSInter/dmh/166651_HistoryoftheSuicidePreventionCenter.pdf

Office of the Surgeon General. (2012). Appendix C: Brief History of Suicide Prevention in the United States. 2020 National Strategy for Suicide Prevention: Goals and Objectives for Action. Washington, DC: Office of the Surgeon General (US); National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention (US). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK109918/

Stone, D. (2022, January 27). Interview with Dr. Deb Stone. (H. Marttila-Losure, Interviewer)

Stone, D.M., Holland, K.M., Bartholow, B., Crosby, A.E., Davis, S., and Wilkins, N. (2017). Preventing Suicide: A Technical Package of Policies, Programs, and Practices. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/suicideTechnicalPackage.pdf

U.S. Public Health Service. (1999). The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent Suicide. Washington, DC. Retrieved from https://sprc.org/sites/default/files/migrate/library/surgeoncall.pdf

U.S. Public Health Service. (2001). National Strategy for Suicide Prevention: Goals and Objectives for Action. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved from https://redmondschools.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/National_Strategy_for_Suicide_P.pdf

World Health Organization. (2022). Mental Health and COVID-19: Early evidence of the pandemic’s impact. Scientific brief. Retrieved from World Health Organization website: https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/WHO-2019-nCoV-Sci_Brief-Mental_health-2022.1

 

 

What We Learned from the #30Days30Stories Project

For the month of September, Lost&Found shared 30 stories of resilience from people who have dealt with mental health and suicide. Since we finished that intense month of storytelling, we reflected on what we learned from the #30Days30Stories project.

 

1. Storytelling is suicide prevention.

  • Talking about mental health is the first step to improving it. Whether it is speaking up because you yourself need help, or speaking up to see if your friend is OK, talking about mental health and thoughts of suicide saves lives. It helps us feel less alone. Plus, when we say our darkest feelings out loud, we are able to be supported in these feelings.
  • We must talk about our emotions and mental health to reduce the stigma. We as a society have gotten better about talking about depression, anxiety, and sadness, but there are still stigmas related to many aspects of mental health and suicide that prevent people from addressing their mental health problems. Also, it’s sometimes easier to encourage a friend or family member to get help than to get help yourself. The more we talk about mental health through stories, the more we can break down stigmas.
  • Storytelling is important in part because much of Lost&Found’s work is identity- and relationship-based. Because mental health is tied to each of our unique identities and experiences, storytelling is an intensive and critical element of our work. The project also highlighted how much networks matter to help us find and share those stories.
  • Stories and statistics work together to paint the full picture of mental illness in our communities. We’ve all heard about the increase in mental health support needs in our area, state, and nation, but we haven’t all heard the stories of lived experience that accompany those statistics. Stories allow us to see more than the numbers do.
  • Storytelling can help us heal. Storytelling is helpful in the healing process for the author, editor, and reader. While it can be difficult to read stories of loss, abuse, and hardship, knowing that the individual is here with us today is powerful. The stories help us know what we can do to support each other.

 

2. Some stories are more likely to be told than others.

  • Men are still reluctant to share their emotions. Overwhelmingly, we didn’t have the turnout of male storytellers that we would like to see. Only six of the 31 stories that we shared were from men or male-presenting people. All are white-presenting and grew up in the Midwest. This is one obstacle that we need to overcome. The “Midwest manly mentality,” for lack of better term, is still keeping men from speaking up. We need to flip the script if we’re going to remove the shame and stigma and allow men to feel comfortable sharing their feelings and struggles.
  • We can do more to elevate Native American, rural, and LGBTQ2S+ stories in our state. Although the #303Days30Stories covered a breadth of experiences and mental health conditions, the stories came from people who were overwhelmingly White and mostly female, in terms of gender identity. Ultimately, if we wish to be most effective in a project meant to serve as a point of connection as well as a public service announcement, we need to be intentional about connecting with Native American and rural-focused organizations, as well as connecting with LGBTQ2S+ storytellers. Suicide statistics in South Dakota suggest these communities have many more stories to tell, and telling them could save lives.
  • It was significantly easier to find mental health advocates with prior experience or connection to our work to share their story. Many of our participants had previous experience either explaining their mental health conditions with a professional or their family and friends. It may be easier to find storytellers who have already had to explain their experience in some capacity.

 

3. Improving mental health is possible.

  • Many instances of suicidal ideation are related to trauma. Whether physical trauma, sexual abuse, physical abuse, serious accidents, or major losses, trauma affects our brain and our emotions. Trauma can often lead to depression and feelings of despair. However, there is hope: Trauma can be part of your story, but it doesn’t need to write your story. Knowing this helps people in their lifelong journey of resilience.
  • Doctors, medication, and therapies can and do help. It’s easier to want to “tough it out” than to want to go to see the doctor or a therapist for bad feelings, intrusive thoughts, and mental health issues. However, these things help! Sometimes it takes a while to find the right medication, the right therapist, or the right system of support. But when a person finds the support(s) that work(s) for them, it is life changing! If you’re reading this and are on this journey — or know someone on this journey — continue to have patience. It might be difficult right now, but it won’t always be.
  • Resilient communities do in fact prevent suicide. Many of the storytellers found their strength and support through friends and family. We heard people talk about therapy and medication, yoga, fitness, etc., but the source of strength noted in every single story was at least one trusted person. By building resilient communities and fostering relationships above all else, lives are being saved.

 

4. Having a greater impact on the mental health system is possible, both with this project and beyond it.

  • The project’s reach was surprising. We knew that this project would have a great impact and a large return on investment, but the social media analytics were stunning. We reached thousands of people online. Imagine what we could do if everyone felt safe and comfortable sharing their story and if word of mouth/print testimonials were shared too.  With an intentional planning process, this project has the prospect of becoming more widely distributed, supported, and impactful in 2022. It has the potential to change conversations in South Dakota for years to come.
  • People relate to their friends, family, and colleagues’ stories of experience with mental health and suicide much more readily than to an organization’s general message. Stories varied in how much engagement they had. The storytellers who shared their stories within their personal networks had the widest reach. Many new people engaged with Lost&Found for the first time simply because someone in their circle was willing to share their story.
  • There is still work to be done. A favorite quote says, “We are restless because there is still work to be done,” and the stories, statistics, and response to this project collectively support this idea: There’s a lot of restlessness out there. Many people in our state and country can’t feel comfortable right now because they sense there is something bigger or better or more impactful that they could be doing with their time. That restlessness is a motivator, and some of those people have moved into action. We at Lost&Found can use that restlessness to do more to move people to take actions that save lives.

 

Here’s what the storytellers taught us:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lost&Found’s Peer2Peer Mentorship Program expanding to seven additional campuses in South Dakota

After a successful pilot project at South Dakota State University (SDSU) last spring, the suicide prevention nonprofit Lost&Found is continuing its Peer2Peer Mentorship Program at SDSU and expanding the program to seven additional post-secondary schools in South Dakota. This program expansion is funded through a Center for Disease Control and Prevention grant awarded to the State of South Dakota and governed through an agreement established with the South Dakota Department of Health.

The program matches student mentors, who are often students planning to go into health or mental health professions, with students who need support. Counseling centers on college campuses have long wait times as demand for their services has increased in recent years, and the mentoring program aims to help alleviate some of that burden.

Peer2Peer Mentorship Program expansion efforts were jumpstarted by the fundraising efforts of Paul and Leigh Longley and the inaugural Ben’s Long Ball 22 Classic Golf Tournament, held in July 2021. Funding from the tournament provided initial funding to train peer mentors at SDSU and the University of South Dakota, as well as create new digital materials and training guides for the program. The new program partnership with the South Dakota Department of Health guarantees two years of funding for ongoing program support for eight institutions throughout the state, with emphasis on serving post-secondary institutions in the Black Hills region.

Mentors connect at-risk students with campus resources, help them set academic and personal goals, and support them in times of struggle. The program serves mentors by providing them comprehensive training around mental health, goal setting, and mentoring skills. L&F also has a graduate assistant at both SDSU and USD who provides ongoing coaching and support to student mentors.

Susan Kroger, Director of Programs at Lost&Found, worked with Carrie Jorgensen, a campus counselor and a Lost&Found adviser at SDSU, to develop the program. Kroger described the program when it was in its pilot program stage:

At the start of the program, mentors go through a two-hour training that includes relationship basics such as active listening.

“The most important of this program is that relationship that’s built between the mentor and mentee, and students really need to know how to build that relationship,” Kroger said.

Mentors also complete QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) suicide prevention training and receive instruction on setting boundaries so that mentors themselves don’t start to feel overburdened.

Lost&Found continues to actively recruit peer mentors and mentees statewide on post-secondary campuses where the program is delivered. To get involved or learn more about getting involved the program, community members are encouraged to contact Kroger (skroger@resilienttoday.org) for more information.

 

About Lost&Found

Lost&Found facilitates comprehensive, data-driven, resilience-focused, public mental health strategies for suicide prevention, serving young adults ages 15-34. We have 16 campus partners in South Dakota and Minnesota. Our work is based around three areas:

  • Student Programs: Delivering resilience programs for K-12 & college campuses, and training student advocates to lead and support the mental health of their peers.
  • Evaluation & Research Services: Applying public health expertise to assess and score campus or organization resource capacity across people, policies, & programs and provide outsourced evaluation services.
  • Education & Advocacy: Addressing community and organization mental health needs through community coalition and policy efforts, targeted digital public mental health content, and partnership development.

Lost&Found to share 30 stories of resilience as part of National Suicide Prevention Month

An honest, heartfelt story has the power to change hearts and minds. This September, Lost&Found is sharing 30 of them—an empowering, impactful story for each day of National Suicide Prevention Month.
30 Days promo - Joel Kaskinen

The first featured story of the 30 Days 30 Stories Project is from Joel Kaskinen. “My goal is to normalize the conversation around mental health and to be a man who is strong enough to share my story with others, knowing that it is painful, emotional and scary.”

The digital storytelling campaign, titled “This Is What Resilience Looks Like,” will tell the stories of 30 people who have faced and overcome adversity resulting from mental health challenges, including suicide ideation, risks, attempts, and loss.

As South Dakota and the surrounding region face continually rising suicide rates and new mental health risks from the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve asked individuals to share their stories of resilience to lend hope, opportunities for conversation, and resources to South Dakota communities.

As an organization focused on providing comprehensive suicide prevention resources for young adults 15-34 in South Dakota and the surrounding region, Lost&Found has two main goals for this campaign:

  • Increase awareness of mental health challenges all around us, as this can reduce the stigma of mental illness and seeking help.
  • Promote the resources that can help people through even the darkest of times. We especially want people to learn about and know how to access the statewide suicide prevention resources that young adults and families have found relevant to their experiences, identities, and communities.

A new story will be posted to 30stories.resilienttoday.org each day. We encourage sharing these stories on social platforms—you never know who might need to hear a story of resilience on a given day. Hashtags for this story series are #30Days30Stories and #ThisIsWhatResilienceLooksLike.

The campaign is being conducted in partnership with the South Dakota Humanities Council and Storyteller Co. of Sioux Falls.

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