The Kansan - Newton, KS
  • Suicide rate on the decline 

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  •  By Chad Frey?Newton Kansan?“We don’t consider average a success — we want to be below average,” said pastor and sheriff’s chaplain Jason Reynolds.?He knows that doesn’t sound right at first blush, but he sticks to it. This year Harvey County hit an average — the number of completed suicides per capita.?The most recent statistics show Harvey County with four complete suicides in a year — right at the average, and half of the 2008 number of eight.?The statistical trends show a steady reduction in the number of completed suicides — something Reynolds is happy about.?After the 2008 numbers came out, he spearheaded an effort to start a grass-roots campaign and coalition to start dealing with the issue of suicide —and he said the steady drop from 2008 through 2011 shows that group’s success.?“We’re happy we’re back to average numbers,” Reynolds said. “We have had a consistent decrease.”?But the work isn’t done. The coalition is still working.?“We are going to stay on this,” Reynolds said. “At no time did we think we would eliminate suicide, but we want to go below the averages.”?In 2005, 2006 and 2008 there were at least eight completed suicides in the county — and the Center for Disease Control flagged Harvey County with an alert.?The coalition was formed in 2010, and a public awareness campaign began. The coalition started participating in “Yellow Ribbon Week” and making contact with churches and civic groups to start talking about the issue of suicide.?It was a new approach — until 2010 it was a problem seemingly no one talked about.?“Not talking about it was not a successful prevention strategy,” Reynolds said. “People knew it was a problem.”?Since that time the culture has changed — rather than a problem no one wants to talk about, the community has started to look for ways to deal with the issue of suicide.?And in the process, lessons have been learned.?“It used to be we didn’t say the word suicide,” Reynolds said. “There was a fear that if you use the word, or put it on a billboard, it will encourage someone to do it. ... It’s not wrong to say the word suicide.”?He now gets regular calls from civic groups and church groups asking for him to speak about the issue. Each time he speaks about the statistics — like every 17 minutes there is a suicide in the United States — and watching for the general risk factors.?The result of the public awareness efforts, he said, is people are now more willing to get involved and make a call for interventions.?And the stats are trending downward.?“Awareness in itself has given the community the confidence in making a call to get an intervention,” Reynolds said. “People do want to talk about it, and we talk about it from the perspective of ‘what can I do to help someone who is considering this?’”?In addition to the awareness campaign, the coalition partnered with the Sheriff’s department to create a three member response team. The team meets with families following a suicide, providing emotional support.?The team also helps families connect with other services if they are needed.?“We have found there is a real openness with families who have suffered loss,” Reynolds said. “They are understand that the community has not forgotten them. The team is doing a great job, really a fantastic job.”?There are plans for the future of the coalition — and those plans include a community assessment to identify common risk factors unique to Harvey County.?But for now, the coalition will focus on finding a way to be below average — and celebrating the downward trend of the last three years.?“It speaks well of our community to bravely face this the way we have,” Reynolds said.
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