Editor’s note: This is part two in a series on suicide prevention and awareness. Part one appeared in the Sept. 12 edition of the Pahrump Valley Times. Look for part three in an upcoming publication.
After several tragedies that claimed the lives of Pahrump area youth this year, many residents in Nye County lamented the need for resources addressing the problem of suicide. The real problem isn’t so much a lack of resources, however. It’s more a lack of knowledge as to what is available.
Right here in Pahrump and all throughout Nye County there are services and programs actively pursuing suicide prevention and awareness. Some of these have an incalculable, exponential impact by multiplying the number of resources available, offering classes that in turn transform participants into an army of resources in and of themselves.
Safe Talk, Youth Mental Health First Aid and Adult Mental Health First Aid are three classes that teach a variety of skills and techniques to prepare people to help someone struggling with suicidal thoughts or actions.
The NyE Communities Coalition offers these free-of-charge courses through the Safe Schools, Healthy Students grant to all the areas it serves, including Nye County, Esmeralda County and parts of Lincoln County. NyECC Prevention and Wellness Director Kim Johnson and licensed social worker Alicia Lewis are both certified to present these classes to communities across the coalition’s target areas, be they in the Pahrump Valley or into the far northern reaches of the county and beyond.
All three free classes are valuable for professionals such as first responders, mental health workers and health care providers, of course, but they are also beneficial for the everyday person and even those who have experienced thoughts of suicide themselves. “These classes are for all people from all walks of life, it’s open to everyone,” Johnson said.
Safe Talk is a four-hour course that is suicide-specific, teaching participants how not to miss, dismiss or avoid the topic of suicide. Instead, they learn how to take it head-on, what to say and how to handle the situation. “That is what people need, we all need that,” Johnson emphasized. “Because without knowledge of how to approach it, it’s too scary of a topic.” Participants must be at least 15 years or older and minors must have parental consent to attend the Safe Talk course.
The mental health first aid courses are eight hours each and teach attendees how to assess, listen, give reassurance and encourage professional and self-help for those who might be experiencing a mental health issue. Youth Mental First Aid is for those 16 and older, also with parental consent for minors. Adult Mental First Aid, as the name entails, is only for those ages 18 and older. “Mental health is broader but it does still talk a lot about the topic of suicide because mental health does often relate to the topic,” Johnson stated.
The classes are not just available at the coalition’s campuses either. Lewis and Johnson visit organizations and entities at their own locations and will even travel out of town to facilitate training sessions. “We’ve done courses in Tonopah, I’ve done a class in Gabbs, I know Round Mountain is interested in having us come up,” Johnson said.
Training courses can be presented any day and any time of the week, helping to ensure they can fit into everyone’s schedule. The main point, the two stressed, is that they are willing to go wherever and whenever they need to in order to help spread the knowledge and education required to battle the statistics of suicide and lessen the tragedy.
“I think people leave these classes uplifted, have more confidence, know what to do and they can implement it right away,” Johnson concluded.
Signs of Suicide program gaining momentum in local schools
Lewis provided an overview of yet another local suicide prevention and intervention effort, titled the Signs of Suicide Program.
Implemented in Nye County School District’s middle and high schools, this is the fifth year with the evidence-based program and Lewis said she hopes more and more students will take part as the program and its goals become common knowledge.
The SOS program, as it’s become known, has two main components. The first is for all students in middle and high school and is comprised of a video that teaches the acronym “ACT,” which means Acknowledge, Care and Tell. “You want to acknowledge with your peers that something is wrong. You may not know what it is, but there is something going on. Let them know you care about them and then tell a trusted adult,” Lewis said.
The second part of the program requires active parental consent, with permission forms sent out to allowing parents to either opt in or opt out of a screening questionnaire for their child. The questionnaire poses a variety of questions to students to assess their risk for suicidal ideation.
“The video teaches them how to recognize signs and symptoms in their peers and the screening instrument is to make sure they know how to recognize those signs and symptoms inside themselves,” Lewis added.
Youth who score as “high-risk” on the screening questionnaire will meet immediately with a mental health professional for further assessment but these are not the only students who will speak with someone afterward. Every child who takes the screening meets with someone as a follow-up.
“This program really helps us identify kids that may not be on our radar. So we’ve had kids that have scored low risk and then we meet with them, have a conversation with them and try to find out things that maybe we don’t know yet and a lot of the time we do find out new things, like little Johnny may be in foster care or little Suzy is living with her grandparents, and we had no idea,” Lewis explained of the importance. “What that tells the school staff is, we need to keep an eye on this kid. They may not be having thoughts of suicide but they need a little more support.”
Johnson then broke out a spreadsheet detailing the results of the SOS assessments over the past four years.
The number of children being screened has increased each year and at the same time, the percentage of those students identified as high risk has decreased, which Johnson took as a positive. He identified three reasons for the results, social workers providing school-based mental health services for those who may not otherwise have access to them, the training of all school staff in Safe Talk and the school district’s attempt to create a safe and secure place of learning.
“When you have these three things going on together, that is why we are only at 16 percent high risk,” Johnson said of 2017’s assessment results. “The state average is 33 percent, Nye County School District is only at 16, drastically lower.”
Both he and Lewis encouraged parents across the school district to seriously consider opting into the Signs of Suicide Program, which for the 2018-2019 school year will begin Monday, Sept. 24 at Rosemary Clarke Middle School. The program will then move to Pahrump Valley High School and other schools throughout Nye County.
“All these programs really spread awareness and help break down that taboo about discussing suicide,” Lewis said with Johnson chiming in, “It’s all about saving lives.”
For more information on the Signs of Suicide Program or to register for Safe Talk, Youth Mental Health First Aid or Adult Mental Health First Aid courses, contact Lewis at 775-727-5546 ext 2121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Johnson can be contacted at email@example.com or by calling 775-727-9970.
Contact reporter Robin Hebrock at firstname.lastname@example.org