Eighty-seven Department of Health (DOH) staff and community stakeholders recently participated in two, separate, two-day suicide prevention trainings. The first session was conducted on St. Croix with 57 participants; the second session was completed on St. Thomas with 30 participants.
“The single most important reason why we brought the training to the territory is education.” said Dr. Nicole Syms, assistant commissioner of Health, “I would like behavioral health, mental health and even suicide to be a part of our everyday language with a common understanding. It doesn’t have to be anything that we shy away from. Instead it should be like speaking about diabetes or hypertension. The training was culturally sensitive and allowed people to learn what things mean, how it relates to them and even what’s right to say and what’s not right to say,” she said.
Participants learned about the “red flags” that are signs for concern. “A lot of us have family members who are suffering,” said Syms, “We don’t know how to grab the red flag and offer assistance. I believe we will see tremendous growth in individuals as a result of this type of training.”
Data collected worldwide demonstrates a relationship between the advent of a disaster and an increase in the number of suicides that follow it.
“In 2018, there were four documented suicides in the Virgin Islands, in 2019, [two years following Irma and Maria] there have been 19 suicides in the territory,” said Irving Julien, the Virgin Islands DOH Suicide Prevention coordinator. “We feel there is a real need to educate residents on how to recognize the signs and symptoms and urge people to seek professional assistance before an attempt is made.”
During the training, community partners received information on barriers to care, prevalence and fact-based information on suicide, risk factors, protective factors, warning signs and perhaps most important, the participant’s role in helping prevent suicides.
“Future stakeholder collaborations will help create a wrap-around perspective. Collaborative efforts are the only way we can take care of the entire territory. Everyone has to be part of the effort. At the end of the day, it is about the person in need. It is not about us or who does it better. To that end, providing this training to everyone only supports the overall plan for our entire territory,” said Syms.
Senior trainer Sharifa Charles from Mental Health America of Greater Houston’s Center for School Behavioral Health provided the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) approved training. A native of Christiansted, St. Croix, who now resides in Houston, Texas, Charles will return in April 2020 to provide an additional train-the-trainer course.