The Vermont Suicide Prevention Symposium attracted over 320 participants

The Vermont Suicide Prevention Symposium: Bringing Resilience into Focus held August 18 attracted over 320 participants from various backgrounds including healthcare, social services, mental health, community-based organizations, state agencies, policy makers and people with lived experience. 

Those who registered have complete access to session recordings and slides, and VTSPC is still accepting registrations which provide full access here: https://vermontsuicidepreventionsymposium.org/account/registration.

There has never been a better time to focus on resiliency. 

The opening featured messages from Governor Phil Scott, Agency of Human Services Secretary Mike Smith, and Voices of Vermont Stakeholders. All messages can be heard here: https://vermontsuicidepreventionsymposium.org.

Governor Scott stressed the importance of reaching out to others, being mindful of physical and mental well-being, and listening to how others are feeling. He urged Vermonters to stay connected adding that social distancing does not mean social isolation. He finished by thanking everyone for the work being done. 

Governor Scott was followed by Mike Smith, Secretary of the Vermont Agency of Human Services. Secretary Smith addressed the challenges of adapting to new social norms, family situations and COVID. He went on to discuss the enormous ripple effect suicide has on families and communities. The Vermont suicide death rate is higher than the national average, and this is being addressed with evidence-based initiatives such as Building Flourishing Communities, Zero Suicide and Success Beyond Six. He ended with information regarding the Mental Health Integration Council, which has been charged with overseeing implementation of the DMH ten-year plan. 

Voices of Vermont Stakeholders were featured in a ten minutes video sharing powerful messages, stories of resiliency and appeals for what they would like to see change surrounding suicide prevention. 

Plenary sessions shared powerful and compelling stories of lived experiences with suicide and mental health, as well as professional experience from the field: 

Dese’Rae L. Stage, a national advocate for suicide prevention, shared her story of resiliency surrounding marriage, divorce and pregnancy while living with suicidal thoughts and depression. She created “Live Through This” which allows individuals to share their personal experience with depression, self-injury, suicide attempts and losing friends and loved ones to suicide.

Joseph Smith, a Vermont Veteran, shared a veteran’s perspective on suicide survival and prevention. He spoke of his personal experience with PTSD and the perfect storm of divorce, jobs, and exhaustion leading to a suicide attempt. Joe also touched on his military experience and the fact that, though treatment options for PTSD are getting better through the Veteran’s Administration, he appealed to change the stigma prevalent in military culture that prohibits many from reaching out for help. 

Joseph Smith

A session on racial justice and equity in suicide prevention presented by The Massachusetts Coalition for Suicide Prevention discussed the role of BIPOC individuals and allies in creating an environment that supports racial equity in prevention work. This pioneering work called Widening the Lens can be found here: https://www.masspreventssuicide.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/WideningTheLensToolkit.pdf.

Hasan Davis

Hasan Davis spoke of social emotional learning of youth and the significance of prosocial engagement, especially in relation to trauma, giving examples such as allowing youth opportunities to express themselves and encouraging supported engagement for youth and families. 

Keith Clark, who served as a longstanding County Sheriff in Vermont, shared his story of being a leader in law enforcement and struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts. He put emphasis on how leaders should not see reaching out for help as a weakness. He finished by talking about how supportive the community was when he went public with his story. 

Keith Clark

The Symposium also featured many breakout workshops and panels throughout the day covering a wide range of topics including youth, older adults, LGBTQ+, lethal means, law enforcement, veterans, telehealth, peer support, social justice and racial equity.  Some highlights: 

Elaine De Mello, from NAMI Connect, spoke of building a relationship between survivors and law enforcement to better understand the trauma for all involved when law enforcement is present on the scene. 

A panel featuring elder-care providers discussed the work being done at Support and Services at Home (SASH), an agency that works with older adults in Vermont. The work includes a suicide assessment on all clients and coordination with Zero Suicide and Umatter® programs to address the mental health needs of older adults. 

Amber Leventry

Amber Leventry spoke about doing more and asking less of the LGBTQIA+ community. Amber explained allies are lifelines for LGBTQIA+ individuals, the importance of acknowledging heteronormative biases.  By changing the way we think, we can help LGBTQIA+ individuals feel more comfortable and accepted. 

Kurt Michael of CAMS-care spoke of suicide prevention in K-12 schools. He discussed media exposure and the increase in suicide among 10-17 year old’s after the airing of season one of the show “Thirteen Reasons Why”. He also highlighted that celebrity deaths and media portrayals of suicide are temporarily related to spikes in crisis text line conversations nationwide and how important it is to reach out to youth with crisis text line information.

HELP cards with Crisis Text information can be found here: https://vtcrisistextline.org.

Kurt Michael

A panel focused on the importance of peer support and family coaching. Links to examples of peer support for survivors of loss and family support groups can be found here: https://vtspc.org/survivors-of-suicide-vermont-resource-packet and https://namivt.org/support/peer-support-groups.

Here is a comprehensive list of the breakout workshops and panels presented at the Symposium 

  • Community Collaboration for Zero Suicide: The Lamoille County Experience 
  • Zero Suicide Pathway to Care – Addressing Challenges for Systems Engagement
  • Integrating Suicide Focused Care in Primary and Specialty Care
  • Leveraging your Experience While Honoring the Sacred 
  • Reframing Resiliency: Doing More and Asking Less of The LGBTQIA+ Community
  • Telehealth & Suicide Prevention: Supporting Mental Health Clients Remotely
  • Lethal Means Safety and Suicide Prevention: New Approaches for Firearm Safe Storage Counseling
  • Care Transitions:  Best Practices, Innovation, and Community-based Connections
  • Comprehensive Suicide Prevention in K-12 Schools
  • Strategies for Engaging Students in Success and Building Resilience
  • The Nature and Roles of Mental Health Peer Support

The day wrapped up with a thought-provoking panel discussion, featuring Auburn Watersong, Director of Trauma Prevention and Resilience Development, Xusana Davis, Director of Racial Equity,  and Victor Armstrong, Director of NC Division of Mental Health, entitled “Let’s Talk: System Growth for Human Growth. Evolving Systems to Fit the Needs of All.” The panel addressed multiple topics including: how zip code affects health status, how to be a better ally to BIPOC, and the hurdles in the system for BIPOC individuals seeking help.  

Evaluations and feedback indicate the Symposium was a great success. THANK YOU to all sponsors, organizers, attendees and ESPECIALLY those who spoke and shared their stories. Send comments to info@healthandlearning.org