Vashon Group Takes on Suicide Prevention, Pandemic Mental Health

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VashonBePrepared has launched a suicide prevention campaign to support the mental health of islanders, burdened by months of struggle and isolation stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic. The campaign begins September 10th, World Suicide Prevention Day, with a free live broadcast titled: “Tales from the Edge: Suicide Survivors Share Their Stories.” Weeks of public education will follow, to help Vashon residents and island mental health practitioners learn to recognize the warning signs of suicide, what to say to a person in need, and how to take action to help them.

“Our community has done well so far at containing the virus, but islanders face a potentially grave threat as the pandemic drags on,” said Jinna Risdal, leader of Vashon’s Community Care Team and an island mental health practitioner. “We are seeing a surge in substance abuse, domestic abuse, loneliness, and depression as our clients look down the road, and it feels like there’s no end in sight. All these mental health challenges can build up to deadly consequences, and that’s why we’re focusing initially on suicide prevention.”

To launch the suicide prevention campaign, veteran Voice of Vashon host Susan McCabe will lead the broadcast discussion, helping three panelists share their lessons from confronting suicide in themselves, in their families and in their mental health clients. Everyone can tune in to the broadcast at no charge at 7:00pm, on September 10. Vashon Center for the Arts has provided the space and technology for the broadcast, and viewers can access it at: VashonCenterForTheArts.org.

“Pandemic pressures have weighed heavily on Vashonians, and we hope this broadcast will start giving our community tools to help each other deal with its devastating impacts,” McCabe said. “The pandemic has touched us all in one way or another. This is a time we can all pull together by watching for signs of trouble among our family members, friends, and colleagues.”

The pandemic has touched us all and this is a time we can all pull together by watching for signs of trouble for our family, friends and colleagues.”

The Vashon Emergency Operations Center reports that a quarter of all Vashon workers have applied for unemployment benefits at some point since the pandemic began, and a Chamber of Commerce survey showed that 40% of island businesses went dark at the peak of lockdown. Hundreds of families are worrying about getting enough food, keeping their homes, being forced to choose between essential work paychecks and COVID safety. Isolated seniors are descending into loneliness and depression, according to reports from island mental health workers.

“We will raise public awareness and understanding using the L.E.A.R.N. suicide prevention tools,” said Wren Hudgins, one of the campaign organizers. “We will be supporting the work of mental health providers and social service agencies by offering free advanced suicide prevention training so they can be a vital safety net for those seeking help.”

The campaign has been built around the L.E.A.R.N. suicide prevention program, developed by Forefront Suicide Prevention at the University of Washington. The island suicide prevention campaign is a project of the Community Care Team, which is the mental health arm of the Vashon Medical Reserve Corps, one of the many all-volunteer groups in the VashonBePrepared emergency response coalition.

Vashon’s all volunteer Emergency Operations Center was activated on March 12th to organize and support pandemic response under the Incident Command direction of Chief Charlie Krimmert of Vashon Island Fire & Rescue. More than 80 volunteers have put in time on the emergency, working on a range of support programs for households, neighborhoods, businesses, unemployed workers, and healthcare.