Last September, we shared the disparate impact of suicide on rural communities and the importance of incorporating culture and strengths into suicide prevention efforts. But how do we translate that information into practical, successful suicide prevention initiatives for a rural community?
1. Strategic planning: Use local data to identify the risk and protective factors unique to the community. Identify existing efforts and resources to support prevention, then select prevention strategies aligned with the community’s needs and culture.
Key question: What community data sources are available to guide planning? The county coroner, the health department, local businesses, and nonprofits often have data on suicide deaths, attempts, and risk and protective factors. For example, we might learn from agricultural lenders (ag-lenders) that foreclosure rates are creating high numbers of farmers in financial crisis—a known risk factor for suicide.
Key Question: How can we engage diverse partners in suicide prevention efforts? We should engage partners by involving them in identifying community risk and protective factors and then in deciding how to address those factors.
By involving a variety of partners, including those with lived experience, we can create suicide prevention that fits the whole community. Partners may include traditional stakeholders, such as health care facilities, faith leaders, and schools, and non-traditional partners, including ag-lenders, extension agencies, and gun shops.
Likewise, a community’s own capacity must guide its efforts. For example, we may not be able to change foreclosure rates, but we can train ag-lenders to watch for clients’ warning signs of suicide and to know how to connect those in need with mental health resources.
3. Comprehensive approach: Ensure suicide prevention strategies and activities occur across the different systems surrounding community members. These efforts should include reducing risk factors for suicide, building individual and community protective factors, connecting those at risk with treatment, and providing support after a death by suicide.
Key Question: How can we collaborate in implementing a wide range of prevention strategies? When we work across sectors, it enables us to implement strategies that reach community members where they are. For example, we might work with ag-lenders to identify farmers at-risk for suicide, collaborate with faith communities on increasing social connectedness, and work with local gun shops in promoting firearm safety.
The Effective Prevention Model provides a process for creating locally driven suicide prevention efforts. Next month, we will share rural examples of applying this model. In the meantime, check out Rural Health Information Hub’s Suicide Prevention Toolkit.
Shawna Hite-Jones, senior prevention specialist with SPRC at EDC, is a public health professional dedicated to suicide prevention, mental health promotion, and community empowerment. She grew up on a third-generation family farm in rural Ohio.
Terresa Humphries-Wadsworth, associate project director, provides leadership and consultation for suicide prevention initiatives. A licensed psychologist with over 25 years of experience, she provides mental health and suicide prevention services in predominantly rural settings.
Linda Langford is an evaluation and communication scientist with EDC. Trained in public health and health communications, she helps states, tribes, campuses, communities, and organizations develop effective suicide prevention and mental health promotion efforts.