Efforts to Prevent Suicide in Johnson County Possibly to Include New Crisis Center, Broader Training

OLATHE — As part of an ongoing effort to reduce the number of suicides in Johnson County, officials here are looking at broadening awareness and prevention training to include school and church groups and others in the community. They also want to set up a crisis center to replace one that closed down more than 10 years ago.

“It is surprising that we talk about suicide more and more,” said Tim DeWeese, director of clinical services at the Johnson County Mental Health Center, “but when you talk with individuals about the skills that they have, most people routinely don’t feel competent to address those suicide issues. … There is never a bad time to ask someone about their thoughts and feelings of suicide.”

DeWeese was among about 70 people who met here Tuesday to review work done over the past year to try to reduce the county’s suicide rate. The prevention effort was sparked in response to a 91 percent increase in the number of suicides between 2008 and 2012.

The annual number increased from 45 to 86 over that period, according to data from the county coroner. With the increase, suicides comprised a greater percentage of the deaths in the county, moving from less than 10 percent in 2008 to nearly 15 percent last year.

The coroner has logged 56 suicides this year through mid-October, according to data presented at the meeting.

The Johnson County Mental Health Center and The Johnson County Regional Prevention Center, which focuses on reducing substance abuse and other problem behavior among young people are helping coordinate the suicide-prevention effort.

Statistics presented by center staff had Johnson County with the lowest suicide rate (13.3 per 100,000 residents) in the five years beginning in 2008 among some peer counties. Wyandotte County came in the highest with a rate of 15.9 per 100,000 residents.

Tuesday’s update came less than a month after the head of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment expressed alarm at a 31.5 percent increase in suicides around the state in 2012, as recorded in the latest release of the department’s Annual Summary of Vital Statistics.

On Tuesday, leaders of three workgroups highlighted the work done since the groups started in June.

  • The research group has developed a fact sheet that includes warning signs and resources for people such as primary care physicians who interact with adults. The workgroup is also working with school leaders to discuss the best way to reach juveniles. For both populations, said presenter Kyle Shipps, an officer with the Prairie Village Police Department, “The message is, ‘Reach out, don’t be afraid, the resources are out there, the help is out there, here it is, take it.’”
  • The healthcare services group has set as a priority the educating of crisis-line workers about what information they can release to emergency responders and stay within patient-privacy guidelines. Officials said reluctance to provide basic information about the person in need can hinder efforts to help the individual.
  • The training group is identifying the training that would be most beneficial and finding out which professionals to target with it. They are collecting data from an online survey, and expect to begin analyzing the results this month, said presenter Bill Art, a therapist with the Johnson County Mental Health Center

Collaboration is important, Art said.

“You can’t do it with just mental health, or just first responders, or just educators, or just faith- based folks,” he said. “We all need to work together and strategize on how we are going to do that collaboratively.”

Art said targeting prevention efforts at adults between ages 45 and 65 could make a significant dent in the overall suicide rate, because of the high prevalence in that age group.

DeWeese said another goal among the suicide-prevention workers is re-establishing a crisis-stabilization facility available to law enforcement where workers could assess those in crisis and respond accordingly.

The previous center closed more than a decade ago, DeWeese said.

“Since 2000,” he said, “it has just been something we have all been talking about.”

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