Suicide is never the answer

Local mental health professionals presented at the Belle Fourche Area Community Center Tuesday about recognizing the signs of suicidality and resources available to loved ones and those suffering with suicidal thoughts. Pictured are the members of the seven-member panel. Pioneer photo by Lacey Peterson

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BELLE FOURCHE –– A seven-member panel of mental health professional spoke to community members Tuesday about recognizing the signs of suicidal thoughts and how to get help for sufferers. 

The event was held at the Belle Fourche Area Community Center.

Marilyn Charging, with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) of South Dakota, started off the symposium by talking about NAMI and what it does within the Northern Hills communities. 

She said NAMI is a United States-based advocacy group originally founded as a grassroots group by family members of people diagnosed with mental illness. 

She explained that the organization is conducting a free program in area schools called NAMI Ending the Silence.

Charging said the program includes an engaging presentation that helps audience members learn about the warning signs of mental health conditions and what steps to take if you or a loved one are showing symptoms of a mental health condition.

NAMI Ending the Silence presentations include two leaders: one who shares an informative presentation and a young adult with a mental health condition who shares their journey of recovery. Audience members can ask questions and gain understanding of an often-misunderstood topic. Through dialogue, NAMI works to help grow the movement to end stigma.

“We have to figure out a better way to address this because our children all have a right to an education and they have the right to feel safe at school and in their community,” Charging said. “This program is a start.”

Rachael Petterson, the Northern Hills site supervisor with Behavior Management Service (BMS), spoke about the program’s Zero Suicide program, which presents an aspirational challenge and practical framework for system-wide transformation toward safer suicide care. 

“The idea behind Zero Suicide is that suicide is preventable if people are connected to healthcare providers,” she said. 

Whether its doctors or mental health counselors, Petterson said, as long as a struggling person is connected to professionals who can help them in their community, suicide is preventable.

The staff at BMS are currently receiving Zero Suicide program training, which will wrap up in October.

“We’ll be ready to add that additional line of support to our communities that we serve; and Belle Fourche is one of them,” Petterson said. 

John Olson, Rapid City Police Department captain and crisis intervention training trainer, shared about crisis intervention’s place in community policing.

“If you look at the statistics … one in 10 people will suffer from some kind of mental health crisis,” he said. “One in 25 people suffers from a persistent and serious mental illness.”

Due to the closure of some area mental health treatment resources, the burden has fallen onto the lap of law enforcement, Olson said.

“(Including) law enforcement involved shootings where someone was in a mental health crisis and became excessively violent … with law enforcement attempting to protect themselves and the public, end up in a shooting situation or something like that,” he said. “Those documented cases are what really came to the forefront to make sure that law enforcement now is properly trained to be able to deal with those (crises).”

De-escalation is a major component of crisis intervention training, Olson said.

“So what we’re really doing is trying to do our best to de-escalate situations,” he said. “What is crisis intervention team?” He asked. “That is being able to communicate and be able to help someone out of a crisis; be able to de-escalate the situation to the point where you could get the person hooked into services.”

Dominique Charlson, owner of Spearfish-based Peer Advantage, spoke about mental health first aid training provided by her company.

The training, called Mental Health First Aid (MHFA), helps the public better identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental illnesses. The course is designed to give ordinary people the skills to help someone who is experiencing a mental health crisis or intervene early to prevent a crisis from occurring. 

The program is based on the principle that early intervention can prevent mental illness from becoming more severe by encouraging people to get help early.

Charlson said the program teaches people ways to connect to the appropriate professional, peer, or self-help care.

The core message of the training is communicated through a five-step action plan encompassing the skills, resources, and knowledge to help connect an individual in crisis with appropriate care, Charlson said. She is one of 90 MHFA instructors in the state.

“We have first aid and CPR for somebody who is having an acute crisis or is bleeding or needing first aid,” she said. 

This training program has the same mission, only suited for mental health safety concerns.

The various organizations fielded questions during a discussion period and handed out information about area resources.

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