September 14, 2021

While suicide disproportionately impacts rural communities, our July blog post described how rural areas can use the Suicide Prevention Resource Center’s Effective Prevention Model (EPM) to strengthen prevention efforts. EPM components include strategic planning, a comprehensive approach, and “keys to success”—partnerships, cultural competence, and engaging people with lived experience.

In this post, we share how three rural communities have used similar components to create effective suicide prevention.

Strategic Planning

Suicide prevention data can be limited in rural communities; however, partnerships can open doors to data that can guide strategic planning.

Fremont County, Wyoming, is home to the Wind River Indian Reservation and non-reservation rural communities. County leaders have worked through their prevention coalition to access monthly data by building relationships with data-keepers (e.g., coroner, law enforcement, health care). The coalition’s executive board (including tribal health, mental health, juvenile justice) uses the data to identify trends and mobilize interventions. Aggregate data is released annually for strategic planning and evaluation.

Relationships and trust have been paramount to Fremont’s data sharing. Tips for building trust include:

  • Completing the necessary paperwork
  • Respecting data-keepers time
  • Involving data-keepers within their available capacity

Working collaboratively facilitates consistent access to data that is essential for prioritizing rural suicide prevention efforts.

Culturally Driven Prevention

Prevention is not one-size-fits-all. Suicide prevention strategies from cities often won’t fit rural townships. Approaches may differ for adults, adolescents, ethnic groups, or farmers. Engaging communities, including those with lived experience, helps tailor strategies to each population’s culture.

In Together with Veterans (TWV), a rural community-based suicide prevention initiative, the affected population drives suicide prevention. TWV is:

  • Veteran-driven, providing rural veterans with tools and training to lead local prevention efforts
  • Collaborative, engaging community-based and veteran-serving organizations
  • Community-centered and strategic, assessing community needs and creating action plans
  • Evidence-informed and comprehensive, drawing from tested approaches to implement multiple locally adapted strategies.

Comprehensive Approach

A comprehensive approach uses multiple strategies to prevent suicide. The Model Adolescent Suicide Prevention Program (MASPP) was developed by an Native American tribe in rural New Mexico and demonstrates the strength of comprehensive efforts. MASPP was developed as a youth-serving initiative that emphasizes community ownership and culture. Program components include:

  • Youth suicide-related behavior tracking
  • Community-wide education
  • A school-based curriculum
  • Suicide risk screenings
  • Peer-support services
  • Partnerships representing schools, clinics, and traditional community gatherings

MASPP evaluations found that youth suicide attempts decreased from a high of 19 annual attempts before MASPP to 4 attempts after 15 years of sustained implementation.

These examples illustrate principles of effective suicide prevention in rural communities. Do you have experience promoting rural suicide prevention? Please share your stories below.

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.

Suicide, Violence, and Injury Prevention

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