Suicide prevention workshops set for this week

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Mental health > Organizers hope to change mentality of silence

By Tris DeRoma

A group of local mental health professionals are hoping to change the way Los Alamos residents think about suicide with a series of public events this week.

The series is called “Holding Hope: Suicide Prevention and Awareness Week.” It coincides with National Suicide Prevention Week, with Sept. 10 being World Suicide Prevention Day. Co-sponsors of the local events include the Los Alamos Family Council, the Los Alamos National Laboratory Employee Assistance Program, and the Los Alamos Juvenile Justice Advisory Board.

A majority of the events will be in Los Alamos, and while some are geared toward professional mental health experts, most are geared toward teen and adult residents. All events are free and open to the public. Many are geared for specialized audiences though, so consult the schedule. Each event is about an hour long.

Elisa Enriquez, a therapist with the LANL Ombudsman Office, said the week of events grew out of a one-time, in-house suicide prevention workshop at LANL last year. According to her it was very successful in that many attended to learn more about the subject. She also met a private practice therapist later on in the year, Aimee Schnedler, and together, they decided to expand the program.

“Out of our meeting, we brainstormed and decided we wanted to create more events,” she said. “We took what was then a very small event and expanded upon it.”

For people who aren’t mental health experts but want to know more about the subject, the week’s events include “Substance Abuse, Mental Health and Suicide,” “Creating a Circle of Care in the Community: Reducing Suicide Risk,” “Holding Hope: Healing Through Music and Drama,” and others.

The workshops not only focus on suicide prevention but on the act itself, a topic that many find difficult to talk about until a tragedy occurs. Even then Enriquez said, people tend to avoid talking about it, afraid that by doing so they will further spread the idea of taking one’s life in their community, or be perceived as ghoulish or melodramatic by their peers.

Enriquez and others are hoping to change that mentality, as well as other perceptions people have about what many consider a subject that’s off limits to discussion.

“The hope of myself, Aimee and others that (the week) is just a kick-start of events that will lead to more structured training,” she said. Some of the sessions include information geared for emergency personnel, and she hopes the week’s events will lead to specialized, in-house training workshops for fire, police and first responder-medical personnel.

For the community in general, Enriquez hopes the week sparks meaningful conversation about the subject.

“My hope is that residents develop an understanding about the importance of talking about mental health, substance abuse and suicide,” she said.

She added that she also hopes people better understand the process of prevention, that it doesn’t necessarily begin when one is showing outward signs of depression or declaring intentions.

“Prevention actually begins with mindfulness, connectedness and reaching out to each other in the community,” she said. “Prevention is knowledge that there is access to resources, knowing that it’s okay to talk about it, knowing that it exists, and that talking about suicide and depression will not create more suicide and depression.”

You can find the full schedule of events in PDF form at nmsuicideprevention.org. Look for the “National Suicide Prevention Week Activities in Los Alamos” link on the website’s front page. The schedule also will be available with this report on LAMonitor.com.