Relationships, strong connections key to preventing suicides, panel says

Building relationships and forming strong connections with individuals who are in crisis are keys to helping prevent suicide, panelists at this year’s Moving Forward: Suicide Prevention Conference 2018 said Thursday.

The panel discussion “Responding to Crisis,” held at the Arlington Resort Hotel & Spa on the conference’s final day, featured Under Sheriff Jason Lawrence of the Garland County Sheriff’s Department, Boyce Mitchell, engagement specialist for Ouachita Behavioral Health and Wellness, Capt. Scotty Howard of the Little Rock Air Force Base, Corey Throckmorton, director of alternative learning in Wynne, and Frank Stewart, bishop of the 18th District Episcopal Diocese.

Every call to law enforcement is somebody in crisis, Lawrence said, whether “the theft of a lawn mower to a fatality accident with a 2-month-old,” and for those individuals, that can be a traumatic experience. The key, he said, is in treating all individuals with respect and dignity no matter their trauma.

“For law enforcement, how we respond to that individual in crisis is that we must treat them with dignity and respect, and most importantly treat them as almost a family member,” he said. “For law enforcement, how to respond as a law enforcement administrator, that is probably the hardest thing.”

A challenge for law enforcement officers and administrators is the tendency to continuously pour into others and leave oneself empty as a result, he said.

“We give and we give and give on a daily basis, but we don’t know how to ask for help,” Lawrence said. “So as a law enforcement administrator, it is my responsibility to make sure that I am always there for them. We’ve been there. I have had quite a few employees come to me scared to even have that conversation. You must be open. We must be there to give them that assistance. We must always as a law enforcement officer be ready to respond not only to the call, but to that individual, as well.”

According to Mitchell, giving hope to the hopeless and strength to the weak is crucial.

“I work with the weakest among us — the homeless — and the way that I keep them engaged is to give them a degree of hope to let them know that they don’t have to ask for help,” he said. “That I’m going to offer them help without them having to ask and to keep them engaged and let them know that they don’t have to shoulder that burden alone.”

Mitchell said he is of the mindset that society has to help the weakest among them in order to build strength.

“When someone attacks you, they don’t attack your strength, they attack your weakness,” he said. “So we are only as strong as the people that’s right next to us. We’re only as strong as our weakest parts of society. So, we have to create a radius around us to where we make sure that everyone around us is in a safe environment and can feel safe. I would say don’t wait for them to ask. Offer and assist.”

Mitchell said having a degree of understanding “that the person sitting across from you could be you at any moment” helps in assisting people in crisis.

“You could be one tragedy away from the exact situation that you’re trying to solve,” he said. “I believe that brings a degree of empathy and a degree of understanding that that person will understand nonverbally. That they’ll be able to understand that you understand and you are not going to be judging them, that you understand this could be you, this could be your brother, your son, your neighbor.

“I believe that when you do an internal look at yourself and evaluate and not judge the person in front of you, that brings a degree of engagement to that individual that’s unspoken, that you don’t have to even speak about and they pick up on that.”

Military personnel and leaders in faith-based organizations face a lot of secondary trauma, according to both Howard and Stewart.

“People tell you their traumatic stories all day long and if I sit through eight hours of therapy you can pretty well bet my sponge is full,” Howard said. “It’s kind of like when you get into the airplane, one of the things they tell you is if we lose cabin pressure and the oxygen masks come out, you’re supposed to put it on yourself first. If we’re not taking care of us, then we can’t take care of other people. Whatever that looks like for you.”

Stewart said what needs to happen is these officials trying to help need to start taking their own advice and focus on self-care.

“God tells us in 1 Timothy Chapter 4, talks about physical exercise and there’s also emotional exercise and spiritual exercise,” he said. “We have to take care of our bodies, but also our minds and also our spirits, and if we don’t do that then we’ll be doing what we’re trying to prevent other people from doing.”

Supporting those following crisis is also critical, Howard said.

“I think everyone in here has been touched in one way or another by death in general, but specifically suicide,” he said. “We do very well at kind of gelling together and supporting each other in that moment, but the real work happens following when everybody goes away. If you’ve ever lost a loved one then you know that the funeral is not really (the most difficult). The particularly difficult time is when everybody kind of goes back to their daily schedule because it’s then we forget that those people still need help.

“We still need help. And so, I like to turn this all back to relationships. Me being a social worker and mental health provider, and in the military, I’m kind of a double negative because people don’t want to talk to me, period.”

Howard said he and his fellow panelists and many of those in attendance are subject matter experts on depression and taking care of people, but it’s the community that is more greatly affected.

“You all and the people outside these four walls and out in the community are really going to be the ones that are going to be most affected,” he said. “You have to be careful because you don’t want to glamorize the act, but you want to remember the life. We can do both, actually, but it all comes back to relationships. You have to have a relationship with people and like the sheriff said, you’ve got to put that hand into another hand. It may not be yours and that’s OK.”

Local on 09/21/2018

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