$2M adds up to new Zero Suicide program

R.I. suicides

Rhode Island recorded 132 deaths by suicide in 2013, the highest ever. Since then, the rate has trended moderately downward.

Grant to aid training, counseling in schools

PROVIDENCE — Rhode Island has received a $9-million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to pay for mental and behavioral health services for students.

The proposal was submitted by the state Department of Education and the Department of Children, Youth and Families. It will allow the two agencies to improve and expand services in Providence, Pawtucket, and Woonsocket schools.

Gov. Gina Raimondo also said she has directed the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals to provide trauma counseling at various locations throughout Providence while schools are closed Monday through Wednesday for the Jewish holidays and primary elections day.

The five-year grant will provide $1.8 million annually. The Department of Education and the DCYF will work with the school districts and with community partners to increase awareness of mental health issues, provide training for school personnel, and connect students and families with the mental and behavioral health services they need.

Last week, a 15-year-old student from Central High School in Providence was shot and killed in front of a neighboring career and technical high school. Providence police said he was an innocent bystander who was waiting for his father to pick him up when the shooting occurred.

A 16-year-old youth has been charged in the case.

In Rhode Island, 19 percent of children ages six to seventeen have a diagnosable mental-health problem, and 10 percent have significant impairment, according to a release from the state Department of Education.

The grant will also help schools train teachers and staff by increasing awareness, training, and collaboration to provide ongoing support for students struggling with mental health issues.

—Linda Borg

RICHMOND — Already a leader in mental-health awareness and services, the South County Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds collaborative has received $2 million in federal funding aimed at reducing suicides. The funding was announced Monday at Harvest Acres Farm, whose owners, Cindy and John Duncan, lost their teenage daughter to suicide.

The funding will enable the collaborative to establish its “Zero Suicide in Washington County” initiative, described by the state Department of Health and three members of Rhode Island’s congressional delegation in a joint statement as a “wide-ranging program for health care providers across the region to screen for the warning signs of suicide and provide vital services to further assess and care for those at risk of suicide.”

Dr. Robert Harrison, director of the project, described it as “both a system and a culture change [and] also the most effective program proven to drastically reduce suicides in health care systems for the initiative. Yale New Haven Health/Westerly Hospital is proud to collaborate with South County Health and every other major health care organization in the region to prevent the most preventable death — suicide — in Washington County.”

Among other significant efforts, South County Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds has joined the international Mental Health First Aid effort, which now includes the University of Rhode Island, whose provost, Donald H. DeHayes, sits on the collaborative’s board.

“We can mount this program in South County because of the strength of South County Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds, a collaboration of healthcare providers, the school systems, URI, our community action agency, business partners and many other social service agencies,” said South County Health president and CEO Lou Giancola.

The $2 million in funding will flow from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

“This initiative is a comprehensive approach that has brought in advocates and family members who have been impacted by suicide to bring help, hope, and light to those in need who are going through a dark time,” said Senator Jack Reed.

Said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse: “Making sure health care professionals have the training and resources to lend care and support to those fighting depression and thoughts of suicide will go a long way toward getting us to zero suicides.”

Added U.S. Rep. Jim Langevin, whose district includes South County, “Suicide is preventable, and we need to do all we can to save these lives.”

While providing direct services and raising funds for mental-health causes and awareness, Harvest Acres Farm also memorializes Cassie Duncan, who lost her life to suicide during the Christmas 2005 holidays. Fourteen years old and an artist, Cassie had not shared what she was experiencing.

“It’s absolutely incredible how far we have come,” Cindy said in May, as Harvest Acres marked yet another expansion of its programming. “It’s a true blessing. Cassie and God are smiling and I couldn’t be happier.”

South County now joins a growing movement to reduce suicide. In May, Butler Hospital announced its own Zero Suicide initiative.

Cameron Pearson