Community That Cares program to bring suicide prevention strategies to Mitchell – Mitchell Republic

MITCHELL — As suicide rates continue to rise at an alarming rate among young people in South Dakota, Thomas Gulledge is working to reverse the trend by bringing a suicide prevention program to Mitchell.

With a $150,000 grant from the South Dakota Department of Health, Gulledge, who is the fitness coordinator at the Mitchell Recreation Center, is helping roll out the Communities That Care (CTC) suicide prevention program for the region. by Mitchell. For Gulledge, the program comes at a crucial time, as he said he has noticed an increase in depression among teenagers and young people in the region.

“I have a child who is in seventh grade. Suicide is real, even among our young people,” Gulledge said. . I give them as much advice as possible, but having someone who is highly qualified and experienced in this area of ​​mental health and suicide prevention will be a game-changing resource for the children and the community.

In South Dakota, suicide is the leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 19, according to the state Department of Health. Young people aren’t the only demographic to see a rising rate of suicide rates, as South Dakota saw an approximately 33% increase in total suicides from 2010 to 2019, according to the South Dakota Department of Health. the state. In 2020, the state recorded 185 suicide deaths, an increase of about 20 from 2018.

Gulledge said the $150,000 grant will fund a new staff member who will lead the program and provide suicide prevention strategies to youth and adults in the community with warning signs, which will be implemented in schools and local colleges.

As part of the program, Mitchell School District students in grades six through 12 will complete a survey that Gulledge says will provide key data for the program to develop strategies to detect suicidal ideation.

“The facilitator will analyze this data, then turn around and implement intervention tactics. This data will guide our employee in response tactics that need to be implemented school-wide or community-wide,” he said. “It will include risk and protective factors, which are attitudes, behaviors and opinions that research has shown to be strongly correlated with suicidal behaviors.”

The Communities That Care program was developed in 2003 by the University of Washington as a way to prevent suicides through a science-based intervention strategy.

According to University of Washington research that was conducted on communities that implemented the CTC program, students from a CTC community who enrolled in a four-year college saw a 20% higher. Additionally, the study found that children who participated in the CTC program were approximately 4% more likely to abstain from substance abuse and delinquency.

These findings stood out from Gulledge, who said he noticed that untreated depression in young people led to substance abuse and school delinquency.

“The statistics I’ve seen with the program have opened my eyes, and it’s clear that there is a strong correlation between depression and school delinquency and substance abuse. But this program has shown that early intervention is effective in getting kids to see the positive things in their lives and succeed in the classroom and in life,” he said.

For Gulledge, suicide strikes close to home. A decade ago, Gulledge asked a family member to kill himself

“It’s a personal thing for me. When I had the opportunity to apply for this grant, it motivated me even more to bring this to Mitchell,” he said.

Another factor that motivated Gulledge to apply for the grant to have the program implemented in Mitchell was a local health needs assessment study which indicated that Mitchell did not have adequate mental health resources in the community. .

A bench sits at the Dry Run Creek Skate Park in Mitchell with the number for a suicide prevention hotline. (Sam Fosness / Republic)

Mitchell and DWU schools join forces

For the program to work, the Dakota Wesleyan University Suicide Prevention Coalition had to support it. Gulledge said DWU’s Suicide Prevention Coalition will serve as the fiscal sponsor and pay the new employee who will lead the program, which will be reimbursed by the state Department of Health.

With DWU joining the CTC program coupled with support from the Mitchell School District, Gulledge said it shows school leaders are committed to stopping the suicide epidemic from hitting area youth and young adults. by Mitchell.

“Teachers and administrators are on the front lines of all of this, and they know the warning signs. By working together, this program will be successful in helping our young people overcome difficulties and struggles,” he said.

For the past few years, Anne Kelly, professor of behavioral science and psychology at DWU, has led the campus suicide prevention group known as Lost & Found. Kelly pointed to the stigma surrounding suicide as a major barrier that needs to be broken down in the Mitchell area to better prevent suicides.

According to Kelly, the rural nature of the state, coupled with a lack of resources, plays a significant role in the state’s suicide rate, especially among young men.

“There is cultural stigma and statewide stigma around mental health. When we look at rural settings, the stigma around mental health is much bigger and more powerful than the stigma we see in urban settings,” Kelly said in a previous interview with the Mitchell Republic.

By bringing the CTC program to Mitchell, Gulledge hopes it will help ‘break the stigma’ of being open about depression and suicidal ideation, and ultimately save lives.

“Kids generally think it’s cool to be tough and not talk about depression and mental health issues. But this program and the employee who will be running it will work to break down that barrier to show kids it’s cool to talk about your struggles,” he said. “If part of that is letting more kids and more people know they’re not alone in this battle, then that’s is also a victory.”