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March 24, 2014
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Nevada County's Suicide Prevention Task Force: the building of a safety net for those at risk


Thanks to the Nevada County Suicide Prevention Task Force, more people are reaching out for help when they need it most, and more are being matched with resources specific to their individual needs, says Nevada County Public Health Coordinator Kim Honeywell, who co-chairs the task force with Maureen Gerecke, program coordinator for FREED.

“The task force has grown quite a bit — just in the past year,” said Gerecke. “Kim (Honeywell) has done a great job of reaching out to more organizations. There has been a strong concern in the community and people are eager to create safety nets for those in crisis.”

The Task Force was founded in 2007 by former Grass Valley Fire Chief Jim Marquis, who, as a longtime first responder, deemed suicide prevention equally as important as fire, chronic illness and accident prevention. Marquis was eager to bring concerned community members together to raise awareness and create broader support systems surrounding the issue of suicide.

The result was a collaboration of individuals and agencies, including those from social services, public health, behavioral health, faith-based organizations, services for the elderly, private therapists, probation, gun control advocates, veterans, business owners, schools, survivors, family members and more.

Recognized by the City of Grass Valley for his efforts in regard to suicide prevention, Marquis — who has since taken a job outside the area — was publicly praised by Behavioral Health Director Michael Heggarty as being “one of those rare people who has a great balance between head and heart.”

It is the goal of today’s task force to continue with Marquis’ vision, said Honeywell, who has been involved since its inception and states that Marquis is “with us in spirit.”

A key benefit of the task force has been communication, education and information shared among agencies, enabling one social worker to refer a client to another organization in what’s often referred to as “a warm hand-off.”

“The task force really helped me to get to know folks from other areas and find out what they’re doing,” said Gary Brown, executive director of Welcome Home Vets, Inc. “For example, if there is dysfunction in a family, it’s always important to ask if there’s a PTSD vet involved.

”We can help, and now I have a better idea of where I can refer family members. And I can do a warm hand-off to someone I know — not just hand them a phone number.”

Having a broad range of organizations represented has added greatly to the task force’s effectiveness, said Joy Porter, director of Anew Day, a faith-based organization that provides lay counseling for those who are hurting.

“We all provide different resources,” said Porter. “Anew Day is faith-based, so there may be people who don’t choose to come to us. In another example, some veterans would rather not go to a government organization, so they’ll choose to get support from NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness). Collectively we offer diversity — everyone who is hurting has a place to go.”

A relatively new addition to the task force has been the “What’s Up? Wellness Checkups,” a teen screening program implemented in schools last year.

“The Suicide Prevention Task Force was a critical part of inspiring our work in the community — it was through this group that the brainstorm came about to bring a universal prevention program to our teens,” said program director Shellee Sepko.

“The partners reviewed available programs and landed on Columbia Teen Screen as an effective evidence-based program. The program was chosen due to it being a universal screening tool, its ease of implementation and high rates of effectiveness in screening not only for suicidal ideation, but for anxiety, depression and other emotional health issues.”

Since the What’s Up Wellness Checkups program began in the schools in 2012-2013, Sepko said members of the task force provided support to ensure the program was a success when it came to providing youth the help they need.

In addition, Sepko said she is able to offer informed updates to the group on the “pulse” of the county’s teen community and their emotional health needs.

“We share resources frequently — it happens routinely,” said Honeywell. “When we come to the table, we put our own agendas aside, roll up our sleeves and do what we can as one unit.

“We are not a support group, but we do take a little time to share heart stuff. We welcome newcomers. We’re proud of the fact that we have now grown to have more depth and community reach. When you look at how each piece in the puzzle comes together, there is definitely spirit, empathy and passion alive in that room.”

For more information on the Nevada County Suicide Prevention Task Force, contact Kim Honeywell at 530-265-1731.

To contact Staff Writer Cory Fisher, email cfisher@theunion.com.


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The Union Updated Mar 24, 2014 11:06PM Published Mar 26, 2014 01:03AM Copyright 2014 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.