The Rhode Island Youth Suicide Prevention Project (RIYSPP)
In this profile, Jeff Hill talks about the Rhode Island Youth Prevention Project (RIYSPP) and their work to educate the public about youth suicide and effective prevention strategies.
Tell me a little about suicide prevention at the Department of Health and the RI Youth Suicide Prevention Project.
The RI Youth Suicide Prevention Project (RIYSPP) was “born” in 2009 at the Rhode Island Department of Health through a federal grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and through funding from the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Act for state youth suicide prevention programs. The project provides a safety net for at risk youth by instituting screening, identification, and referral protocols, training gatekeepers, and providing a media campaign about who is at risk and how to respond. For example, through the conclusion of the grant in 2019, we expect to train up to 42 public schools as gatekeepers in the suicide prevention protocol Question, Persuade, and Refer (QPR) and work with four middle schools and four high schools training students in Signs of Suicide where they will learn to Acknowledge, Care, and Tell (ACT) a trusted adult if they are concerned about a peer who may be expressing signs that they are in distress.
RIYSPP has many partners, including Rhode Island Student Assistance Services (RISAS), Access Center at Emma Pendleton Bradley Hospital’s Kids’ Link, the VA and National Guard Suicide Prevention Programs, Brown University’s School of Public Health, and the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
What do you think are some of the most common misunderstandings about youth depression and suicide?
One of the most common myths or misconception people have about suicide is that talking to someone about suicide may give the idea to do it. The truth is that giving that person the opportunity to talk about these thoughts can create an immediate connection that can give them a way to communicate their fears and express their pain without resorting to self-destructive behaviors. Furthermore, many believe that those that talk about suicide won’t actually do it and are just trying to get attention from others. In fact, studies have reported that as a many as three quarters of people who attempt suicide have said something to someone or reached out in some way for help, even posting on social media. Their comments should get people’s attention, because they need help.
Most of those who attempt suicide don’t actually want to die, but they do want the pain they are experiencing to stop. It is so important to connect them with help. One way would be to use the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which is answered locally right here in Providence, by calling 1800-273-TALK (8255).
What is being done on a local level to implement suicide prevention initiatives?
Since 2009, the RIYSPP held trainings for well over 2,000 gatekeepers throughout the state including community based and social services organizations, middle and high schools, universities and colleges, first responder agencies, and other state agencies. The project has worked with four different school districts providing gatekeeper training for over 500 high school students. We continue to reach out to schools, colleges, businesses, and others to spread the message that suicide is preventable and help is available.
Some of our other recent projects include…
RIYSPP worked with the Providence Veterans Administration Medical Center’s (VA) Suicide Prevention Program to provide over 100 gun locks for distribution to families who may have a child in crisis and an unlocked gun in the home through the Bradley Hospital Access Center.
RIYSPP and the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence co-created the nationally promoted website suicideproof.org to provide simple tips to reduce the access to lethal means in the home.
RIYSPP has worked with the Brown University School of Public Health to maintain a suicide prevention research website called Suicide Prevention Information and Resources for Educators (SPIRE).
RIYSPP partnered with a local university to place 2500 refrigerator magnets in residence halls.
What are some key suicide prevention strategies for community coalitions, schools, and parents?
There are many education programs available in the state of Rhode Island for students, teachers, first responders, healthcare workers, and community members who wish to learn how to help prevent suicide. Some healthcare plans, like United Healthcare, offer Question, Persuade, and Refer training online that is free.
A personal strategy that any family in Rhode Island can use is to limit the access to lethal means in the home. There are many tips on our Suicideproof.org website of simple things you can do to reduce risk. For example, locking up a gun if it is in the home, removing the gun from the home, locking up medicine cabinets, or removing old medicines by using the drop box located at many local police stations.
What are Rhode Island’s major successes related to suicide prevention?
I think our most important successes are the relationships that are being formed and the amount of collaboration that is taking place as a result of our work. We continue to build on our relationships with our National Guard and VA counterparts and we continue to support our statewide coalition that has over 60 members from many different individuals, community based organizations, grant funded partners, and state agencies.
Any other important messages you would like to share?
Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone for yourself or a loved one. Prevention is so important to our work. It is critical to recognize the signs or symptoms that someone may be thinking about harming or killing themselves, be able to ask them if they are ok, and then refer them for professional help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is open 24 hours a day: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Other valuable resources:
In the event of a mental health or substance use crisis, call to connect with a licensed counselor, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Bilingual support and medications to assist with recovery are available.