Over the last two years, the Children's Policy Council of Lee County has worked to coordinate resources and efforts to help youth. They recently produced a helpful protocol on Suicide Prevention for our community.
I was leaning against the wall in Judge Fellow's side chambers at the Family Court of Lee County as I watched a group of leaders declare consensus on reaching the youth suicide prevention protocol. It was a surreal moment, one that had been two years in the making. All participating organizations now have a one-page master protocol to coordinate local resources and efforts to help our youth.
I said to the group, "We need to share the story of how we got to this moment." I asked to take a picture of those present to commemorate this moment. While getting ready to take the picture, I thought about how hard it is to get everyone on the same page at the same time, let alone produce a meaningful document.
I have a personal interest in the work of this group because in November of 2011, my friend ended his life. He reached out to me many times in the months leading up to his death. He even showed up at my house one day just to go swimming. Just the two of us. It was weird for me; I knew he was wrestling with some things, but I didn't recognize the signs. I simply did not know them. I, like many others, blamed myself when he went missing. This master protocol is especially meaningful because it may save lives.
Over the last two decades, mental health issues have risen to the forefront on the national, state, and local stage as a result of the increase in suicide, substance abuse, and mass shootings. Nationally, there was a 56% increase in suicides among young people ages 10 – 24 between 2007 to 2017. Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among Americans age 15 to 24. I recently heard Lee County Coroner, Bill Harris, lament that he personally had dealt with 20 suicides in the previous 9 months in Lee County.
For this reason, I commend the efforts of the Children’s Policy Council of Lee County. This group of educators, health professionals, law enforcement, social workers, court staff, and others who care about children, came together to work out a solution for future children struggling with their own importance. In their protocol, they include suicide indicators and warning signs to inform the public.
They also include steps for both emergency and non-emergency situations, as well as tangible resources for those suffering and for their loved ones. By purposely bringing together agency, organization and community members, children’s services are more likely to be delivered as a collaborative effort rather than taking place in isolation, often resulting in duplication of efforts or missed opportunities to provide services. I hope that by conducting trainings and making this information accessible to the public, the CPC can truly prevent more individuals from taking their own lives.
Throughout the year, CPC members review the needs of children and families in their community then report their results in a Needs Assessment. This Needs Assessment serves as a blueprint for the counties, state, and legislators to assign priorities to needs and implement programs and services to provide for the needs.
The Lee County Needs Assessment for the past several years has highlighted substance abuse and mental health (specifically suicide prevention) as some of the leading issues facing our community.
Now, with the suicide prevention protocol document created, the truly hard work begins.
All the partnering agencies are now getting the word out about this effort. Please share this blog to help spread the word.
If you would like a training session for your church or nonprofit about what to look for in suicide prevention, please contact Dawn Pierce at (334) 559-0146. She is a wonderful resource.
Also, East Alabama Mental Health provides trained therapists in 14 schools in Lee County, working with over 500 youth a year for a variety of mental health and behavioral concerns. They are an excellent resource as well. They may be reached at 1(800) 815-0630.
Thoughts of suicide and suicide attempts are increasingly common among the youth served by school-based mental health professionals. Therapists focus on strengthening coping skills, building attachments to family and friends, and helping youth to develop a sense of hope in a better future. It will take a community working together, educating themselves about suicide prevention, and reaching out to vulnerable youth to change this alarming trend.
If you know someone struggling with such thoughts, download the Juvenile Suicide Prevention Protocol below for helpful tips:
JUVENILE SUICIDE PREVENTION PROTOCOL
For Lee County, Alabama Community Members
IF THERE IS AN IMMEDIATE HEALTH OR SAFETY THREAT, CALL 911
If there is a present threat of suicide without an immediate safety risk, do the following:
- Notify a parent or guardian immediately.
- Do NOT leave the youth alone.
- Safely remove any means that might be used for self-harm.
- Be open and direct. Do not express shock or judgment. Do not promise to keep it a secret.
- Send to EAMC Emergency Room. Call ahead to inform ER staff. Provide information re: mental health treatment, current medications, and substance abuse
- Make sure the ER staff is aware of the Warning Signs noted below.
If the child is not presently threatening self-harm, but reports suicidal thoughts:
- Direct parent/guardian to contact a counselor or mental health professional. If the child is involved with a counselor, the parent/guardian should inform the counselor of the child’s suicidal thoughts.
- The parent/guardian may contact East Alabama Mental Health Outreach: 334-742-2877 or 1-800-815-0630.
- During Business Hours (8:00 – 4:30, Monday through Friday):
- EAMHC Outreach will connect to a supervisor with Family and Children’s Services who may arrange for an assessment at FCS or may send the child directly to the E.R.
- If hospitalization is indicated, the FCS therapist/supervisor will serve as liaison with East Alabama Medical Center’s Psychiatric Unit regarding admission.
- If hospitalization isn’t indicated, the therapist will work with the youth and family to develop a safety plan
- After 4:30 p.m. on week-days, week-ends, holidays:
- The EAMH answering service will contact the Emergency Services On-Call therapist. The On-Call therapist will assess for immediate hospitalization.
- If hospitalization is indicated, the On-Call therapist will serve as liaison with East Alabama Medical Center’s Psychiatric Unit regarding admission.
- If hospitalization isn’t indicated, the therapist will work with the youth and family to develop a safety plan and will refer for services at FCS.
- During Business Hours (8:00 – 4:30, Monday through Friday):
- Other resources: Clergy/ministers, private counselors, local psychiatrists, AU Psychology Services, and AU Marriage and Family Therapy Center may be able to assist.
- BE PREPARED to provide:
- Information regarding the situation (including the warning signs below.
- Name, address, date of birth, insurance information
- Mental health treatment history, current medications, previous or current substance abuse.
Warning Signs of Suicide
- Thinking about, talking about, or writing about wanting to harm oneself
- Recent attempt to harm or kill self
- Statements about wishing to be dead or wanting to go to sleep and not wake up
- Researching ways to commit suicide
- Dramatic mood or behavior changes
- Taking unusual risks, behaving recklessly
- Feelings of hopelessness or unbearable pain
- Feeling trapped
- Feeling of being a burden
- Sleeping too much or too little
**Any of the above combined with drug or alcohol abuse should heighten your concern**
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:
Free, confidential, 24-hour call line.
Members of the Lee County CPC include:
- The Honorable Mike Fellows, Chair
- Lisa Kelly, Director of the Department of Human Resources
- Jean Spicer, Director of Family and Children’s Services, East Alabama Mental Health
- Darryl Johnson, Chief Juvenile Probation Officer, Lee County Juvenile Court
- Joy Stanley, Auburn Schools Director of Social Services
- Gina Ivey, Lee County Schools Director of Social Services
- April Colley, Founder of Hold Fast Counseling
- Amy Tatum, Lee County Youth Development Center
- Dr. Terry Woodall, Mental Health Director at LCYDC
- Dr. Trellis Smith, Executive Director of My Brother's Keeper
- Kermit Farmer, Village Creed (author of blog)