HUTCHINSON, Kan. (AP) — For the first time, Reno County has a multidisciplinary coalition aimed at eliminating suicide.
It's long overdue, said Paula Hopkins, of Hutchinson's Horizons Mental Health Center. The task force comes the year after Kansas recorded a 31.5 percent increase in suicides, from 384 to 505. In Reno County, 11 people took their lives in 2012, according to Kansas' Annual Summary of Vital Statistics.
So far, the group has addressed needs and available resources in Reno County when it comes to suicide prevention. At their next meeting Thursday, the coalition is expected to outline specific goals.
The overreaching goal, however, said Hopkins, is to reduce suicides to zero.
Attended by members of law enforcement, education, health care and social services, the Reno County Suicide Prevention Coalition had its first meeting in December. The coalition is funded by the Kansas Suicide Prevention Development Grant Program. A large mission of the coalition, Hopkins said, will be to provide prevention and educational outreach material to agencies as well as individuals.
"I think the real emphasis of our coalition group would be to get everybody involved," Hopkins said.
"People are realizing that this is a big problem."
At the last meeting, group members identified local needs to address, including the stigma associated with suicide, a lack of education within the medical and general population and consistent follow-ups between clients and mental health providers. The committee also identified current resources, including school counselors and the 24-hour suicide prevention line.
The next step is planning and developing resources to bring into the community.
Bill Hermes, Reno County Youth Services director, said he's part of the coalition's steering committee to share his expertise in the field. The grant is primarily targeted at youths, relevant especially because suicide is listed as the third most common reason for deaths among 5- to 14-year-olds in 2012. Suicide was not included on the list of five most common reasons for death in 2011.
Employees of Bob Johnson Youth Shelter constantly look for signs that a juvenile in the facility might be considering suicide.
"It's always a forefront here because we have a lot of kids on psychotropics. And then the stress of coming in at a detention facility or put in and away from family," Hermes said.
In Hermes' more than two decades at the shelter, one juvenile successfully killed himself. Several others have taken their own lives in the months after leaving the facility.
In Kansas last year, five teens younger than 14 killed themselves. Housewives, children, volunteers and students were among the largest groups of people to commit suicide. It was the second leading cause of death in the state for those between 15 and 44 in 2012.
"Everybody in the community needs to understand the warning signs for it.
"The more eyes and ears out there looking for the signals and signs...the better," Hermes said.
"All it takes is one person asking directly if they're considering suicide."
Reasons for the 2012 spike in suicides are unknown.
Angela De Rocha, director of communications at the Kansas Department of Aging and Disability Services, cited economic hardship as one reason suicides were more frequent. She said the Governor's Mental Health Initiative, which established five regional hubs for services, is expected to help identify community needs as well as individuals who may have "fallen through the cracks."
While she couldn't say whether the state would award funds to coalitions such as Reno County's, she did praise it.
"The coalitions do wonderful work. It's grass roots, so they're more aware than we could be on needs," De Rocha said.
Kansas Suicide Prevention Development Grant Program also awarded funds for Barber, Harper, Pratt and Kingman to set up a separate multi-county suicide prevention coalition. In the surrounding counties, besides Sedgwick, 10 people committed suicide in 2012.
Hopkins said it was important for those counties to have a coalition separate from Reno County's, because the needs would be different. Those in rural counties are considered more at risk than those in urban areas, not only because of a lack of resources, Hopkins said.
"It's that pioneering spirit where you take care of yourself and don't let others know what's going on," she said.
Hopkins said she was optimistic the coalition would result in real progress. She said that there's now an agreement that although the numbers may appear low, one suicide is too many and that everyone can be part of solving the problem.
"What we're educating them in is that everybody has a piece (of solving the problem)."
Information from: The Hutchinson (Kan.) News, http://www.hutchnews.com