- Associated Press - Saturday, March 7, 2015

EVANSVILLE, Ind. (AP) - Despite a high suicide rate the last few years, the issue isn’t talked about much in public, mental health professionals and law enforcement officials often acknowledge.

But a recently created group, known as the HOPE Team, is trying to reach as soon as possible those most affected by suicide - the family and friends of victims. Known as suicide “survivors,” they have an elevated risk of committing suicide themselves.

Evansville Police Department officials announced last week that it would become standard protocol for officers to inform people at the scene of a suicide about the services offered by the outreach group, which was formed last summer.

The department has supported HOPE since its inception, Evansville Police Department spokesman Sgt. Jason Cullum said, so making it part of officers’ procedure was a logical choice. In 2014, there were 50 suicides in Vanderburgh County, according to figures released by the coroner’s office last month. It was the second time in five years that 50 or more suicides were reported here. In 2010, there were 54 deaths, which is the record for a single year.

“The suicide rate in Vanderburgh County is a huge concern. We’re trying to find as many ways as possible to address the issue,” Cullum told the Evansville Courier & Press (https://bit.ly/1CMVquy ). ” … There are families who have been impacted more than once by suicide. What we want to do is to give the people who are there dealing with (a suicide) some starting point of ‘how do we cope with this.’”

HOPE team coordinator Janie Chappell said the all-volunteer team has been generally well-received when they are dispatched on calls. The group is made up of mental health professionals and those who are survivors themselves. The team is available to respond to incidents in both Vanderburgh and Warrick counties.

The primary goals of members, who work in pairs when called to an incident, are to lend an empathetic ear as well as provide avenues for new survivors to find additional help as soon as they are ready.

“We’re not doing therapy (ourselves),” Chappell said. “We’re there as a peer-support activity to give information about grieving, about resources, about suicide support groups and those kinds of things.”

Even if people initially decline HOPE Team assistance, officers will leave contact information for the group.

“Even if we don’t get called to the scene, we want to be able to provide them with resources,” she said. “Grieving from suicide is a lot different than grieving somebody who died from natural causes or even (other) traumatic events.”

Cullum said the new procedure will benefit the responding officers as well.

“There’s not an officer who has been on the street for more than two or three years who hasn’t been on a suicide run. It’s like any other event you go on as a first responder - you take a part of that with you,” he said. “We’re giving these officers something that they can do that might help them as well. When you walk out of a run and know that you’ve done something more than just write names on a report, that means something to the officers.”

Both Chappell and Cullum said suicide is still largely an issue that’s dealt with in private, and that those who are either considering it or dealing with its aftermath might feel there’s a stigma attached to it. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

“It’s important for everyone to realize that it is something that needs to be addressed, and for those who are contemplating suicide to know that there are resources that are available, even though they might not be aware of them,” Cullum said. “Please reach out. We have a community that cares about its residents, and we want to see people get better.”

While the HOPE Team’s aim is to quickly help those suffering from suicide’s aftermath, Chappell, who also works at Deaconess Cross Pointe, encourages anyone who needs help coping to contact her, regardless of how long they have been dealing with the death. Her phone number is 812-471-4521.

“Feel free to call,” she said. “It’s never too long of a time (to seek help).”


Information from: Evansville Courier & Press, https://www.courierpress.com

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