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Suicide Prevention in the Chicago Suburbs

Each year in September, the nation recognizes Suicide Prevention Week. At Pillars, we understand that suicide isn’t typically the cause of death, it’s the means.

At Pillars Community Health, we understand that suicide isn’t typically the cause of death, it’s the means. Support and treatment can be key to keeping our neighbors healthy and helping them find other ways to resolve a situation or an illness.

Our staff work to prevent suicide in the western and southwestern suburbs through a three-part approach:

  • Assessment and ongoing intervention
  • Crisis intervention
  • Outreach and education to reduce the stigma that often keeps people from seeking help
Ongoing Mental Health Services

We start with assessing for risk. Of course, clinicians are limited in the help they can provide by a) whether someone reaches out for help and b) how much information they are willing to share with the clinician. But for any client who presents with a mental health concern, our clinicians start by assessing the person’s symptoms, thoughts of self-harm or harming others, and the level of severity.

“There are different baselines,” says Brendan Riordan, director of outpatient mental health at Pillars Community Health. “Some people think about it every day. Some people are more specific about it or maybe there’s a day that’s more risky. For others, they may not have plans to carry it out or they may have plans that are not within their reach (like jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge).”

To create an environment of ongoing support, the clinician will make a plan, determining how often the client should be seen and asked about their thoughts, suggesting ways to help the client cope on a day to day basis, and creating external supports.

“One of the great things about Pillars Community Health is that we can often provide access to other programs in-house because we have such comprehensive services,” Riordan says. “Maybe you came in through Buddy’s Place because as a family you are managing your grief, but you realize you could use some counseling. And then during family therapy we discover your child is having trouble with social skills, so we can refer you to our Community Support-Individual program to help him build confidence outside the home. You can cycle through all the programs you need all in one place. Or, if we don’t have what you need, we can facilitate introductions to programs outside of Pillars Community Health. It’s very wholistic.”

If, during an appointment, the client demonstrates that they’ve thought about suicide, have a plan to carry it out, and have the means to do so, that creates a level of urgency for the clinician that typically requires a consult with Pillars Community Health’s Crisis Team and/or a call to 911.

Crisis Intervention

When a client calls Pillars Community Health’s crisis line or is referred to the Crisis Team for suicidal thoughts, staff invite the client to come in for a face-to-face meeting—unless there is immediate risk of harm, which warrants more urgent action.

“Typically we would get them to an ER or speak with someone else in the home to help calm the moment,” says Audra Duren, director of Crisis Intervention Services at Pillars Community Health. “If they are adamant that they are going to do it, then we contact the police. We always keep two people on those types of calls so that we can stay on the phone with the client while another clinician accompanies the police.”

But it’s never just about crisis stabilization. Pillars Community Health seeks to provide long-term support to prevent future crises. That’s where it comes full circle—back to the ongoing assessments and interventions to help the clients reframe their thoughts.

If Pillars Community Health hears a suicide occurred in the community, the Crisis Team reaches out to the school or area where it happened to provide support and send staff onsite.

Changing the Community’s Perception of Mental Illness

In addition to providing ongoing support to the clients themselves, Pillars Community Health also works to educate the community. Our presentation Erase Crazy teaches community members about mental illness and the stigma that often surrounds it, in an effort to create empathy and reduce the use of words like “crazy.”

Mental Health First Aid is an eight-hour course that teaches community members what to do when they see someone who may be experiencing a mental health crisis. Locally, Mental Health First Aid is co-managed by NAMI Metro Suburban and NAMI DuPage. Pillars Community Health has two clinicians trained to teach the courses. Community Memorial Foundation, a long-time Pillars Community Health partner and funder located in Hinsdale, helps to support Mental Health First Aid trainings.

But this is just one of the many things the Foundation is doing to support suicide prevention in the area. In preparation for creation of its Regional Health and Human Services Agenda, the Foundation held a series of focus groups, asking what they would need to do to make our region the healthiest in the country.

“Community members immediately identified the need to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness and suicide,” says Greg DiDomenico, president and CEO of Community Memorial Foundation. “Our community’s collective response encouraged the Foundation to make mental health and suicide prevention an Agenda priority so that we, as a region, could come together to improve positive mental health outcomes.”

The Foundation recently released a public service announcement encouraging youth and their parents to “just talk about it.” Its strategy is to promote dialogue, and ultimately, direct those in need of help to the appropriate resources.

“A conversation opens the door,” says DiDomenico. “By talking about suicide and mental health in a candid and honest way, we can reduce stigma and get people the help they need.”

Are you in need of help for suicidal thoughts or mental illness? Reach out to Pillars Community Health at 708-PILLARS (708-745-5277). You are not alone.

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