Town hall focused on suicide prevention is topic of Inter-Agency meeting

Tuesday, August 23, 2016
A pamphlet providing information on resources for suicide prevention is in development. (Sarah Reed/Democrat-News)

A concern about the welfare for persons contemplating suicide spurred the development of a committee in Marshall earlier this year. During a Saline County Inter-Agency Council meeting Tuesday, Aug. 23, Richard DeFord -- Fitzgibbon Hospital's public relations and marketing coordinator -- spoke about a town hall meeting scheduled for next month.

"There's a group of concerned individuals on the Saline County Mental Health Association, Fitzgibbon Hospital, Great Circle, Fitzgibbon Mental Health, that have come together to address the issue of suicide in Saline County," DeFord told agency members. "Marshall Police Department has some statistics that they shared with our group, and they have a representative on our committee as well. It is a problem in Saline County. ... It's one thing that we need to, as a citizenry, really look at -- what can we do to raise awareness about suicide and mental health? Also, what can we do to put resources in the hands of people so that they can recognize the potentials for suicide in people that they love?"

The committee developed a pamphlet that DeFord asked agency members to display among other public-resource literature, such as in a waiting room or lobby. On a larger scale, the committee is also developing the town hall meeting for Sept. 28, DeFord said. September is Suicide Awareness Month.

"It is at Covenant Presbyterian Church. ... On that Wednesday evening ... we're going to have several individuals on several disciplines that will present information about suicide," he said. "It's going to be a chance for the public to ask questions. We will take questions that night, and then we'll ask (the panelists) right then."

Some of those who have confirmed participating on the panel include representatives from Great Circle, a board-certified psychiatrist with Fitzgibbon Mental Health, the Rev. Dr. Dan Festa -- a pastor and author who has experience working with those touched by suicide -- and a spokesperson for MPD.

"We've had several suicides, not only in Marshall but in outlying counties as well," DeFord continued, telling Inter-Agency members that no one from the Sweet Springs area is on the committee and asking them for contacts in that city.

In addition to discussing the committee and town hall meeting, DeFord noted having an unfavorable experience contacting the national suicide prevention hotline. Because of that, the committee is recommending citizens call 911 should an emergency arise, rather than the hotline.

"It was pretty chaotic," he said of the 1-800 hotline, which he called in order to gain a better understanding of the process. "I notified (the representative) right away that what my purpose was in calling. I said 'I want to call you and have you interact with me just as if I were in danger in dying by suicide.'"

DeFord hoped to learn what resources he would be referred to during the process and how the conversation goes; however the conversation was interrupted several times, with DeFord having to repeat himself and a lot of background noise.

"What we identified as a committee is, for the immediate future, it is better to refer to our local law enforcement who are trained to handle an incident like this than it is to call the 1-800 suicide hotline," he said. "(MPD's) goal is to get them over to the emergency room as quickly as possible where they can be immediately triaged and taken to the behavioral health unit."

The town hall meeting is scheduled from 7-8:30 p.m. on Sept. 28, and Powerhouse Community Development Corporation will provide refreshments.

"There is still, unfortunately, some stigma, regarding mental health, so we are being very mindful of the fact that we don't want to have anybody be embarrassed or have anyone stay away because they think they might encounter something that would embarrass them that night," DeFord assured the group. "That's not going to be the case."

The committee has met once a month since April. Its next meeting will be held in a Fitzgibbon Hospital classroom at 4 p.m. Sept. 13.

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