By KATIE ROSS
CHEROKEE INDIAN HOSPITAL
Do you know someone who has committed or attempted suicide? When someone you love commits suicide, it is a painful experience for everyone involved. Suicide isn’t easy to talk about, but it is a serious problem in the Qualla Boundary. Between 2006 and 2009, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians lost nine people to suicide, and many more have attempted or considered attempting suicide.
But there is hope. According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, 90 percent of suicides are linked to mental illness. That means they are preventable and treatable by medical professionals. And since 2009, the Cherokee Indian Hospital and A Na Le Ni Sgi Behavioral Health Clinic have been leading an initiative to help prevent suicides here in Cherokee.
The Methamphetamine and Suicide Prevention Initiative (MSPI) is a program funded by the Indian Health Service. The goal of the MSPI is for the hospital to work together with A Na Le Ni Sgi and other community health programs for suicide prevention. They are focusing on various evidence-based methods of reducing the risk of suicide and the related problems of substance-abuse and substance-use-related deaths.
In the first three years of the project, CIH and A Na Le Ni Sgi have targeted some of the main processes that affect suicide prevention. Physicians’ education has been increased with trainings to make doctors more alert in recognizing and treating depression. The health care facilities have increased the use of screenings that help identify depression and substance abuse. Evidence from many cultures shows that limiting access to lethal means can prevent some self-destructive behaviors, so the hospital has put attention to creating safe rooms for at-risk patients. They also cooperated with other community organizations in supporting “Operation Medicine Drop,” to encourage community members to drop off old and unneeded medications. Through the MSPI, help is now more readily available to community members who are experiencing depression. The project has improved the chain of care of collaboration between hospitals, counselors, and other involved parties through new policies and trainings.
“The Suicide Prevention Initiative has been an exciting opportunity for Cherokee Indian Hospital to partner with A Na Le Ni Sgi and other tribal and community programs in improving services and promoting a message of hope,” says Dr. Michael Toedt, executive director of Clinical Services at Cherokee Indian Hospital. “We are already seeing improvements in care coordination and access to needed services.”
This year, these strategies will be continued with more training and developments in the health care facilities. Meanwhile, there will be an added emphasis on community education and involvement. The MSPI team will focus on gatekeeper education, which is training community members who are likely to encounter at-risk individuals. Clergy, caregivers, school staff, counselors, and others have been targeted for training on suicide prevention. Finally, public education is a priority. Trained health care providers will attend community meetings and share information with all of Cherokee on how we can work together to prevent suicide. The MSPI team wants to communicate ways to help people who may be at risk, but also wants to hear your perspectives.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the Mobile Crisis Hotline at 1-888-315-2880, or call A Na Le Ni Sgi at 554-6550 (drop-in hours M-F from 1-4pm). You can also call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK.