September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and at the end of the month, The Family Place will offer its first Mental Health First Aid course to address how to help mental crises since before the COVID-19 pandemic.
The timing of the class is not lost on Curtis Snelgrove, the Mental Health First Program director at the local nonprofit, who said both the training and the month itself are crucial for raising awareness of the subject — and therefore preventing deaths caused by suicide.
“When it’s out and open in the community, it’s an easier talking point for anybody,” Snelgrove said, “whether it’s that they’re struggling with that themselves or know somebody that’s struggling, or just for the community in general to be aware of it.”
One in every five people lives with mental illness, and suicide is the third-highest cause of death for young adults 10-24 years old. And Cache County is above the national average at 20-22 deaths per 100,000 compared to 14.2, according to 2018 data.
When and how to help people with mental illness are not as obvious as other medical emergencies, since depression, anxiety and even suicide ideation can “present in different ways.”
“There’s not just one, huge red flag,” Snelgrove said. “They’re people. They’re everyday people.”
There are two trainings offered through the nonprofit: one geared to helping adults and the other geared toward youths. The eight-hour classes are similar in content but teach different approaches to help friends and family members speak to their loved ones.
“In general, people try to take care of their physical body, their physical wellness,” said Adam Boman with Bear River Mental Health. “If people talk about their doctor or body, there’s no second thought … (but) mental health is just as important as physical health.”
The National Council for Behavioral Health has valued courses like those offered by The Family Place at $70-$130, but due to a federal grant, the nonprofit was able to offer these classes once a month before COVID-19 lead to cancellations in March.
Snelgrove hopes to continue offering the classes even after the grant expires in 2021 and said the opportunity to provide the classes to the community free of charge is invaluable.
“When we’re talking about suicide, if you think about the person that you care about most, just consider, what would you be willing to do?” he said. “Or what would you be willing to not do to keep that person safe and alive one more day?”
According to Reece Neilson, the local clinical director for the nonprofit, the pandemic has meant even more people are reaching out for services, like therapy offered at the centers.
“Across the entire population, there’s just increased anxieties and stresses,” Neilson said. “Whether it’s fears about health concerns or employment, stress has gone up, or spending a lot more time at home and just dealing with the effects of that and being in all in all-cooped-up space for longer times.”
Like other local counseling resources, the pandemic has forced The Family Place to pivot to more virtual services to protect both employees and clients.
“It just really is a tougher dynamic and can really be detrimental to the quality of the interaction sometimes,” Neilson added. “Things like group services are just very difficult to have the same experience online as you would in person.”
The shift has lead to more missed therapies, as well, but continuing to offer the service is instrumental in helping maintain contact with at-risk individuals in the area, and Snelgrove said the education and outreach staff have had a lot of success in staying connected with the community despite the difficulties.
“They give like all these different parenting tips, and we did these videos of meditation and things to be able to help individuals cope through these very stressful and unprecedented times to be able to still get, you know, the aspect and the essence of what we’re trying to do at The Family Place as a whole,” he said, “which is protect children and strengthen families.”
Neilson said though the COVID-19 pandemic forced more people to recognize they needed help, there was already a mental health pandemic in effect before the virus caused panic in the states.
“It was hard enough to keep working,” said the therapist. “We couldn’t keep up with demand before it hit next, and it’s not any easier now.”
Even with schools starting and much of the economy reopening, Neilson said there has yet to be a shift in need.
In fact, Bear River Mental Health’s Stabilization and Mobile Response crisis team for youth has already seen an uptick in calls and has been dispatched to schools in the Logan and Cache County districts since schools reopened in August.
“It’s a stressful time,” said Boman, the clinical supervisor at BRMH. “A lot is changing. First there’s social distancing and they can’t see friends, now they can, but they have to wear a mask, oh, and now have to take a math test on top of it.”
Boman added having preventive measures and more access to therapy are crucial to helping youths gain tools to combat anxiety, depression and other mental health issues.
The Family Place’s next Mental Health First Aid class will be on Sept. 26. More information is available at thefamilyplaceutah.org.
The local SMR crisis team and counselors at Bear River Mental Health are available 24/7 if an immediate need rises. The phone number is (833)SAFEFAM (833-723-3326).
For anyone else struggling, help is available through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800)273-TALK (800-273-8255), for talk or text, or online at suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat.