In early April, in our collaboration with the “Breaking The Silence” project which brought together over 30 newsrooms from around the state to shed light on suicide and its effect on the community, we gave you a preview on an upcoming training for key area stakeholders that would help Columbia County develop a community postvention response plan.
While not open to the public at large, The Chronicle was invited to attend the training both as a contributor to the postvention plan as a representative of local media, and to report on the results of the four-day effort.
“What we did this week was a four-day, intense focus, dialogue and training on postvention response,” Ann Duckless, Community Educator for Nami New Hampshire, MA, said. “So, how do we respond to a sudden death to include suicide? And the training itself is all about promoting healing and reducing risk while being aware of the national best practice protocols that guide all of our provider responses to a sudden death and mixed into that is the idea of how to talk safely about suicide and suicide risk.”
Facilitated by Connect, a National Best Practice Program developed by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) – New Hampshire, the effort was funded by the Oregon Health Authority (OHA). The hope is that these trainings will be implemented in counties throughout Oregon to meet the requirements of Senate Bill 561.
The bill directed OHA to prepare a plan to outline procedures for local mental health authorities and allied local systems to share information within seven days of a suspected suicide involving those 24-years-old or younger.
Columbia Community Mental Health (CCMH), as the designated local mental health authority for the community, already had a postvention plan on the books as they are required to. However, the Connect training provided the opportunity to fine tune the plan, according to JoAnn Dohn, CCMH outpatient mental health therapist and trauma informed care coordinator.
“This really helps us fulfill our legal requirements,” Dohn said.
Duckless has been conducting these trainings for 13 years. Each one seeks to bring together five different sectors within the community: first responders, emotional responders, schools, social services, and healthcare.
Duckless said the training asks important questions of those in attendance. How do we reach out to loss survivors who are left behind? This includes friends, family, staff, students and clients that may be affected. How do we interact and engage with these loss survivors in a sensitive, compassionate manner?
Added to those questions, as those in attendance learn to address them, is to understand the component of contagion while the trainees work on the problem.
“Best practices guide us to really control for that contagion, reduce that risk, always erring on the side of promoting healing and wellness for people in the wake of this,” Duckless said.
Days one and four of the training focused on understanding and building the community’s postvention plan, while days two and three focused on training additional trainers within the community. Eight people were trained from Columbia County: Dohn, Weston Perkins-Clark, Brianne Mares, Mark Brown, Terri Denfeld, Juliann Davis, Sierra Preston and Jamie Hamsa.
These trainers will now be able to offer a Connect postvention four-hour or day-long training to any provider group within the county that would be involved in the postvention response, as well as, to quote Duckless, “be the champions in the larger field to help people move forward.”
The Chronicle attended day one of the training, and the last half of day four.
On the morning of day one, the group covered two modules: the impact of suicide and risk of contagion, and grief and loss in individuals and families. The core principles of the training approach the subject from the standpoint that suicide is a public health problem, helping survivors in an appropriate way is important for everyone, taking the right action after a suicide can be prevention for future suicides, that suicide prevention extends far beyond youth, across the entire lifespan, cultural factors are important to consider, and awareness and communication between individuals and systems will aid postvention and prevention efforts.
The group then heard from a local survivor of suicide loss. This person’s personal story, who suffered the loss of a parent at a young age, brought to light many issues the individual wishes would have been addressed.
In the afternoon, the group covered three more modules: promoting healing and reducing risk in communities, social services discipline, and how postvention becomes prevention.
The training, ultimately, focuses on 15 key ingredients:
1. Active promotion and use of media recommendations
2. All communication guided by Safe Messaging
3. Needs and sensitivity to survivors of suicide loss
4. Obtaining facts from a reliable source (i.e. law enforcement)
5. Preparation of “script” for notification
6. Breaking news to staff/students/clients
7. Utilization of grief counselors/emergency response teams
8. Collaboration of key stakeholders
9. Openness about death as a suicide
10. Awareness of contagion, especially with young adults
11. Memorial guidelines
12. Monitoring electronic communication
13. Resources and warning signs
14. Proactive postvention protocols
15. Long-term healing and resilience
“I will take the plan that we already have and I will compare it to the 15 key elements that we learned as part of best practices and see where any of the gaps are,” Dohn said.
While keeping in mind these key elements, each of the representatives from the various sectors within the community were asked to keep in mind three questions: How does this outcome relate to your respective discipline? What is currently in place with regards to this item? What needs to be put in place?
As each module was tackled, the group engaged in open collaborative discussion, each bringing their own experiences in dealing with suicide to the table. On day four, the group put themselves in the shoes of various agencies to consider what those other sectors may be dealing with in responding to the problem.
“Being able to be mindful of those 15 key ingredients and how they are unique in each of those sectors, where they intersect, you know – ‘schools do this and social services do that’ – but schools only treat students while social services might treat youth to older adults,” Duckless said. “It’s a great way of conceptualizing it, and what we’re trying to figure out is a way to make it consistent across this collaboration.”
Given Duckless has conducted these trainings in communities large and small across the nation, The Chronicle asked her where she believes Columbia County sits in the effort to combat suicide compared to those other communities.
“I would say Columbia County is very social capital rich. I think you have a lot of key stakeholders and individuals who really want to do the right thing in terms of healing, wellness and treatment if it’s needed,” Duckless said. “I’ve met a lot of people from these five different sectors here in the community who really speak about mental health and suicide risk issues as public health issues, as medical conditions that people can get treatement and people can recover from. There’s that hope, health and healing kind of messaging here.”
However, Duckless said, Columbia County is not necessarily resource rich. She said, since the county is very rural and spread out, there are a lot of “pockets of isolation.”
Dohn said she has already identified gaps where there is potential to grow the county’s interagency connectedness.
“One of the key pieces that came up today, for instance, was because we had a lead dispatcher from 911 with us, and we were able to get a really good understanding of how, so often when we lose somebody to a sudden death or a suicide that 911 responders often get left out of what happens afterwards,” Dohn said.
For other community agencies who are interested in receiving Connect training, contact JoAnn Dohn at 503-397-5211 ext. 129.