by Bruce Trimble, MA, APR
I began my career working for a residential treatment facility for adolescents, and it was on a fall day that I experienced the worst day of my fledgling career. A young man, who I’ll call Dave, was on the brink of adulthood but had some difficulties at home, resulting in his admission to the center. Dave continued his high school education with plans to graduate in the coming spring, and held a part-time job at a local factory — which allowed him to buy a used car, his pride and joy. Also, Dave was dating a young lady, Sheila, for over a year.
A week after his placement, Sheila broke up with Dave. He took the break-up especially hard, and this issue became a subject of his treatment plan. Then, one October Saturday evening, Dave’s mood suddenly changed for the better; he seemed to have accepted his circumstances. It was during shift-change that Dave attempted to take his life. However, through the effective efforts of our staff, we were able to save him. It was a near-miss that had a profound impact on my life and career. And it left me with more questions than answers. I began to wonder what was missing from Dave’s life that would cause him to consider suicide. Over time, I came to realize that several deficiencies undermined Dave’s mental health.
According to the Suicide Prevention Center, the community plays a vital role in setting the standard for suicide prevention, and this applies to all ages. Community groups and organizations including schools, after-school programs, colleges, vocational schools and workplaces can collaborate to carry out prevention activities based upon the local needs and resources. Creating a comprehensive suicide prevention coalition can be an essential first step in understanding the problem in your community and identifying the strategies that are most appropriate and effective.
Faith communities are a natural setting for suicide prevention, according to the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention. Spiritual beliefs and practices often help people experience a greater sense of hope and meaning in their lives. Also, with a continuum that may comprise church services, after-school programs, vacation bible school and bible studies, faith communities can provide opportunities for developing positive relationships with others and are often a key source of support at trying times.
According to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, life skills are a critical protective factor for suicide, and they include critical thinking, stress management, conflict resolution, problem-solving and coping skills. Activities that enhance these skills can help people as they face new challenges, such as economic stress, divorce, physical illness and aging. Resilience, a concept related to life skills, is the ability to adapt and recover from adversity or incidences of change that arise in life. Because life may present challenges and at every stage, developing life skills is essential to growth.
Suicide is a serious and preventable public health problem that can have enduring harmful effects on individuals, families and communities. In 2017, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Arkansas ranked 9th in the nation in the number of suicides per 100,000 people, with 631 deaths by suicide that year. An Arkansan takes his or her life every 16 hours.
Because each person is unique, there is no one solution for effective suicide prevention. While the causes of suicide vary, suicide prevention strategies share two goals: To reduce factors that increase risk and to increase factors that promote resilience or coping. Prevention requires a comprehensive approach that occurs at all levels of society, encompassing the individual, family and community levels to the broader social environment.
Over the years, I often wondered about Dave. We saved him from that moment in time, and I hope that he saved his life by engaging with his community, exploring his faith, developing life skills and seeking help from his health care provider when necessary. I have come to believe that Dave learned from that experience and is enjoying an abundant life.
Bruce Trimble, MA, APR, is the director of business development for The BridgeWay Hospital, a psychiatric facility for children, adolescents and adults in North Little Rock. An avid mental health advocate, Trimble was appointed by the Governor of Arkansas to the Arkansas Suicide Prevention Council in 2015 and served as co-chair from 2015 to 2017. In 2018, he was instrumental in establishing the call center for the Arkansas Suicide Prevention Hotline.