Suicide continues to be a significant public health issue in Wyoming and
across the country. In 2013, the most current year for complete data,
Wyoming had the third highest rate of suicide deaths in the nation, with
22.1 deaths per 100,000 residents, while the national average stood at
13.0 deaths per 100,000 that year. Statewide, suicide is the second leading
cause of death for residents aged 15-44 and the sixth leading cause of
death when assessed across all age groups.
Each day in the U.S. more than 110 people take their own lives –
the family and friends they leave behind are known as “survivors”,
who struggle with the loss, grief, and questions that begin “Why
. . .?” During the course of our lifetime, 60% of our population
will personally know someone who has died by suicide and another 20% will
lose an immediate family member to suicide. For every person who dies
by suicide, over 100 people are personally affected, and the healing process
for these survivors is often complicated by secrecy and stigma. Survivors
often struggle to answer many questions, including: Why did this happen?
How do I cope? Where can I find support?
Too often survivors of suicide loss believe the death of their loved one
is somehow shameful or that they or their family are to blame. But research
shows that more than 90 percent of people who die by suicide have an underlying,
although not always diagnosed, psychiatric illness at the time of their
death, most often depression.
In late October, our community will have an opportunity to learn more about
the impact of suicide when Joanne L. Harpel, MPhil, JD, President of Coping
After Suicide, comes to Jackson and addresses suicide bereavement and
“postvention” (the response in the aftermath of suicide).
A world-renowned expert and the survivor of her own brother’s suicide
in 1993, Harpel has a nationwide practice providing personalized guidance
to families, schools, faith communities; training clinicians, clergy,
and other professionals; and consulting with diverse organizations to
develop cutting-edge programmatic and public awareness initiatives. She
is the former longtime Senior Director for Public Affairs and Postvention
for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, where she developed
their comprehensive capacity relating to helping families, communities,
and professionals deal with the aftermath of suicide.
Over the last 25 years, 40% more Americans have died by suicide than from
HIV and AIDS. Mark Houser, coordinator of Harpel’s visit, notes,
“Too many individuals in our community have faced a personal loss
due to suicide. It is our hope that Joanne’s visit will help spark
dialogue in our community and allow us to expand our resources in addressing
suicide postvention issues.”
Harpel’s visit is the result of a unique collaborative effort of
several local organizations, including St. John’s Medical Center,
the Jackson Hole Community Counseling Center, Teton County School District
#1 and the Prevention Management Organization of Wyoming and the Wyoming
Department of Health, through The Suicide Prevention Coalitions of Teton,
Lincoln and Sublette Counties.
On Thursday, October 22, Harpel will present “After a Suicide: From
Bewildered Grief to Determined Action,” at the Jackson Hole Middle
School from 7:00-8:30 PM. This event, open to the entire community, will
explore the impact of suicide on families and communities, answer questions
(is it safe to ask someone if they’re suicidal? is suicide genetic?
contagious? do you have to talk about it to heal?), and dispel myths.
On October 5, free tickets are available at the offices of selected local
sponsors, listed below. This presentation is organized by St. John’s
Medical Center Words on Wellness Program. Lou Hochheiser, Chief Executive
Officer at St. John’s Medical Center, said, “Prevention of
suicide can only exist with understanding and a community dialogue. We
welcome Joanne, who will provide impetus for us to move ahead on this
critical issue in our community.”
On Wednesday, October 21, all members of the community who have lost someone
to suicide are warmly invited to join Harpel for “Coping With Suicide
Loss: An Evening of Connection,” a special event focused on healing.
For many (even those who are many years from their loss), this may be
the first time they’ve ever met another survivor or explored where
they are in their own journey of healing. All survivors are welcome at
the Jackson Hole Middle School, 7:00-8:30 PM.
Harpel has several other targeted events scheduled during her three days
in Jackson. On Thursday, October 22, she will interact with the secondary
staff at Teton County School District #1, one of the co-sponsors of Harpel’s
visit. Harpel will provide an overview of suicide postvention strategies
applicable in the schools. Later that day, Harpel will provide a professional
exploration of bereavement and postvention to school counselors, psychologists,
and other school support staff, as well as other youth service providers
in the community.
On Friday, October 23, Harpel will present a professional training for
mental health professionals, nurses, physicians and other health care
providers and community members. Deidre Ashley, Executive Director of
the Jackson Hole Community Counseling Center commented on the need for
this training, saying, “This is such an important topic not only
across the nation but here in Wyoming and especially our local community.
We are grateful to Joanne for sharing her experience and wisdom and hopeful
that the training will spark some important dialogue.” Individuals
interested in this training can contact Houser at
Brittany Ritter, a member of the Lincoln County Suicide Prevention Coalition
notes,"Suicide prevention is everyone's business. Currently,
suicide is the 10th leading cause of preventable death among adults and
the 2nd leading cause of preventable death among youth. Suicide claims
the lives of too many people in our great State of Wyoming. It's wonderful
to see Joanne Harpel come to Teton County in order to provide educational
opportunities for everyone! If we all do our part, hopefully we will one
day live in a suicide free state."
Houser, in summarizing Harpel’s trip to Jackson, said, “This
is not Joanne’s first trip to Wyoming. Unfortunately, every year
our community faces the loss of friends and loved ones to suicide. Coping
and healing are difficult, and we know we will all benefit from Joanne’s
insight and guidance.”
Individuals can receive immediate professional help by contacting the Jackson
Hole Community Counseling Center at 307-733-2046 (24 hours a day) or by
calling 911. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is also available
at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Information on suicide postvention and bereavement
can be found at
www.afsp.org/coping-with-suicide-loss and at
Locations for free tickets to After a Suicide: From Bewildered Grief to
Thursday, October 22, 7:00-8:30 PM, Jackson Hole Middle School.
St. John’s Medical Center, Wellness Department, 625 East Broadway,
Jackson, main entrance
Jackson Hole Community Counseling Center, 640 East Broadway, Jackson
Teton County Suicide Prevention Coalition, 140 East Broadway, Suite 2B, Jackson.
Sublette County Suicide Prevention Coalition, email Ranae Pape,
Lincoln County Suicide Prevention Coalition, 830 Topaz Court, Kemmerer
We ask that reporters review the document, “Recommendations for
Reporting on Suicide”, which can be opened at this link:
http://www.afsp.org/news-events/for-the-media/reporting-on-suicide, and “Safe and Effective Messaging”,
They contain lists of media best practices that can minimize impacts on
survivors (family and friends left behind) and create a positive message
for others who may be at risk.
Here are a few of the important points contained within this document:
• More than 50 research studies worldwide have found that certain
types of news coverage can increase the likelihood of suicide in vulnerable
individuals. The magnitude of the increase is related to the amount, duration
and prominence of coverage.
• Do not identify community members who have died by suicide, nor
reference the method of death.
• Risk of additional suicides increases when the story explicitly
describes the suicide method, uses dramatic/ graphic headlines or images,
and repeated/extensive coverage sensationalizes or glamorizes a death.
• Covering suicide carefully, even briefly, can change public misperceptions
and correct myths, which can encourage those who are vulnerable or at
risk to seek help.
• Suicide is a public health issue. Media and online coverage of
suicide should be informed by using best practices. Some suicide deaths
may be newsworthy. However, the way media cover suicide can influence
behavior negatively by contributing to contagion or positively by encouraging
On November 21, an International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day event will
happen in Jackson, for the ninth consecutive year. This free event will
be held at 970 West Broadway, Room 206 (above the UPS Store). Doors open
at 10:30 AM and the program starts at 10:45 AM. The event includes screening
of a 35 minute film, Family Journeys: Healing and Hope after a Suicide,
produced by the American Foundation of Suicide Prevention (AFSP) and will
start promptly at 11:00 AM. Attendees who have experienced a loss by suicide
are invited to bring photographs with them. Following the broadcast, attendees
are welcome to stay for support and discussion.
Thousands of survivors of suicide loss will gather together around the
world on this day of healing, support, and empowerment. The broadcast
will be screened simultaneously at hundreds of sites around the world.
The broadcast includes emotional support, information about resources
for healing, and guidance from survivors and mental health professionals.
For those who don’t live near a conference site, the program is
also available online at
www.afsp.org on International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day. Programs from previous
years can also be viewed at any time. There are over 300 locally organized
conference sites being held throughout the U.S. and around the world on
a total of 6 continents. AFSP’s International Survivors of Suicide
Loss Day was launched in 1999, under the guidance of Harpel. The event
has grown each year since, illustrating the immense need for survivors
to connect with others who have experienced a similar loss. More information
on this event is available by contacting Mark Houser at 307-690-5419 or at
Media Contacts: Karen Connelly,
St. John's Medical Center in Jackson, Wyoming, offers patient-centered
care, clinical excellence, and community wellness through a full-service
hospital, primary care and specialty physician practices, and a long-term
care Living Center. For more information, visit tetonhospital.org