Local coalition focuses on suicide prevention awareness

Mental Health America of Jackson County has mental health surveys on its website.

Purdue Extension Jackson County offers showings of the movie “REJECT,” a researched-based look at what happens with social rejection.

The Jackson County Health Department has a Medical Reserve Corps that’s trained to assist people who have experienced a disaster or added stress and also has information about psychological first aid for those who respond to emergency events in the community.

The Jackson County Drug-Free Council guides people with drug and alcohol issues to services and education to receive help.

[sc:text-divider text-divider-title=”Story continues below gallery” ]

Jennings County High School’s Hope Squad seeks to reduce self-destructive behavior and youth suicide by training, building and creating change in schools and communities.

The goal of the local ALIVE Coalition is to ensure people know about all of these resources year-round but especially in September since it’s Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.

The coalition was formed in the fall of 2018 under the umbrella of Mental Health America of Jackson County. ALIVE stands for awareness, listening, informative, vigilance and engaged.

Members are Melanie O’Neal, executive director of Mental Health America of Jackson County; Becky Bujwid with Centerstone; Lin Montgomery, public health coordinator for the Jackson County Health Department; Molly Marshall and Heather VonDielingen with Purdue Extension Jackson County; Emily Sommers, counselor at Jennings County High School; and Kate DuBois, assistant principal at Emerson Elementary School.

“The common denominator that all of us have in common is we want to reduce the suicide rate for Jackson County. That’s what has brought all of us together,” O’Neal said.

According to a report by the Indiana State Department of Health, from 2011 to 2015, there were 31 suicides in Jackson County with 87 hospitalizations and 56 emergency department visits.

Jackson County Coroner Mike Bobb said the number of deaths ruled suicides in recent years are nine in 2017, 10 in 2018, six in 2019 and seven so far in 2020. The average age has been between 42 and 55, and 29 of the 32 were men.

Bobb said the predominant method of those suicides has been a gunshot wound to the head. In his three and a half years as coroner, Bobb said none have been from drug overdoses in which the person intended to kill themselves, and some of the suicides among the younger ages were people who had prior military service.

Coalition’s work

This month, the ALIVE Coalition plans to launch its first suicide awareness campaign in Jackson County.

That will include signage in the lawn at the former Indiana State Police post in Seymour from Sept. 5 to 11 and Jackson County Courthouse in Brownstown from Sept. 11 to 17.

“The goal of that is to increase awareness of help that is available — mental health providers, suicide prevention, lifeline information — just to start letting people know in Jackson County that we are concerned about the numbers, we do care about lives here, that every life matters,” O’Neal said.

The coalition also has revised a mental health provider rack card to include additional mental health providers. It’s printed in English and Spanish and available in paper and digital forms.

The front of the card lists free confidential mental health screenings that can be taken online at mentalhealthamericajc.net, while the back lists contact information for the county’s mental health providers and the suicide prevention lifeline.

The screenings are for depression, anxiety, postpartum depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, bipolar, eating disorders, psychosis and addiction. There also are tests for youth, parents, adults, employers, caregivers and health care workers.

Between December 2017 and August 2020, O’Neal said the number of people taking the online screenings increased from 200 to 560.

The next step after taking a screening is treatment, so O’Neal said that’s why the rack cards include resources on the back.

The coalition also has ordered some COVID-19 stress and anxiety brochures to make available to all county schools.

“Two years ago when this coalition was formed, obviously we had no idea that we would be experiencing a pandemic and all of the added mental health concerns that so many are facing in our community, so I’m extremely thankful that we had already formed this group and we have a clear mission now of what we can do to educate our community members and put resources in their hands,” O’Neal said.

The coalition also made an impact with showings of “REJECT.” Since 2019, the film has been shown 13 times and viewed by 310 people in the county, Marshall said.

The audiences included school personnel, church groups, employers, foster grandparents and Department of Child Services employees. A Leadership Jackson County project team also included the film as part of its project in 2019.

Marshall said she still receives requests to show the film and has a viewing scheduled for this month. O’Neal said grant dollars allow participants access to free copies of two books mentioned in the film.

“It’s just a really good film that details social rejection, and it ends on a positive note of what steps everyone can take to ensure inclusivity and doing the right thing,” Marshall said.

Reaching students

Coalition members have made an impact in schools, too.

Several have received QPR training. QPR stands for question, persuade and refer, the three steps anyone can learn to help save a life from suicide.

Montgomery said the training was provided to Medora Community School Corp., and the hope was to have a team of students trained to assist their peers experiencing suicidal thoughts or other struggles and direct them to local resources to get the help they need.

“That is available still to interested folks, and someday, it may become something we can offer again in the schools,” Montgomery said.

Marshall said the coalition wants to reach out to youth-serving organizations and determine if they would like QPR and/or mental health first aid training.

Sommers started Hope Squad at Jennings County High School in the 2019-20 school year.

Hope Squad trains students to recognize suicide warning signs and act upon those warnings to break the code of silence; build positive relationships among peers to facilitate acceptance for seeking help; and change the school culture regarding suicide by reducing stigmas about suicide and mental health.

Research has shown students are the first to know about suicide risks in friends but tragically have chosen not to tell an adult, Sommers said.

“Young people are already intervening with suicidal friends thinking they are the only ones with enough trust to deal with the situation,” she said. “Our goal is for these students to be a link to a responsible adult or just link them to the resources they need.”

O’Neal said she would like to see Jackson County schools start Hope Squads, too.

Other community outreach

She also said she would like to start a Crisis Intervention Team in the county.

The program designed and led by the National Alliance on Mental Illness would include law enforcement agencies and first responders receiving training on a variety of mental health topics.

“That was our goal pre-COVID,” O’Neal said. “That has put a standstill on so many things in our life, but that is still a goal of Mental Health America of Jackson County to get that organized and up and running as soon as possible.”

Bujwid said another target audience is farmers. There is an increase in people in rural communities dying by suicide, and farmers are the fastest growing population. One reason is because of financial issues related to the economy and ongoing pandemic.

“We forget about how important they are to our food and our economy with everything that’s going on and just the challenges of the world,” Bujwid said. “We can’t forget about them or anybody that’s struggling.”

Marshall said Purdue Extension has a farm stress program for agriculture workers, and that was offered in Jackson County in the past year.

Also COVID-19-related, Bujwid said the Jackson County Drug-Free Council has talked about an increase in people returning to alcohol consumption and drug use. The council is focused on keeping that population safe and getting them back on track through education and services.

Marshall said another good resource is the new website bewellindiana.com, which was created by the Indiana State Department of Health in response to the pandemic. Resources have been compiled by the Indiana Division of Mental Health and Addiction designed to help Hoosiers stay connected and maintain their well-being.

[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”On the Web” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

Check out these resources related to suicide prevention awareness and mental health

Mental Health America of Jackson County: mentalhealthamericajc.net

Indiana State Department of Health and Indiana Division of Mental Health and Addiction: bewellindiana.com

National Alliance on Mental Illness: nami.org

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: suicidepreventionlifeline.org

American Red Cross psychological first aid: surveymonkey.com/r/FallPFA

Hope Squad: hopesquad.com

[sc:pullout-text-end][sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”At a glance” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

Jackson County mental health resources

Centerstone, 1443 Corporate Way, Seymour; 812-522-4341; crisis line 800-832-5542

Christopher and Associates, 322 Dupont Drive, Suite A, Seymour; 812-523-0386

Community Health Center, 113 N. Chestnut St., Seymour; 812-524-8388

New Beginnings Recovery Center LLC, 105 W. Second St., Suite 203, Seymour; 812-271-2300

Schneck Mental Health and Wellness, 415 S. Walnut St., Suite 221, Seymour; 812-523-7852

Waymaker Mental Health, 300 N. Chestnut St., Suite 18, Seymour; 844-929-6257, ext. 2

If you’re seeking Christian counseling options, call 812-522-3480 or email [email protected].

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline may be reached by calling 800-273-8255.

Text HOME to 741741 for free 24/7 crisis support.