Prevent Suicide WV, a collaborative program resulting from the consolidation of the West Virginia Council for the Prevention of Suicide (WVCPS) program component and the Adolescent Suicide Prevention and Early Intervention (ASPEN) project is the statewide suicide prevention program for West Virginia, working to ensure that we don’t continue to lose our fellow West Virginians to suicide. Funded through the Bureau of Behavioral Health and Health Facilities and the Bureau for Public Health, the program provides a wide array of services to a lifespan population. Specifically, Prevent Suicide WV provides:
1) for an increased capacity of suicide prevention education through awareness and gatekeeper trainings; 2) incorporates comprehensive evidence-based protective measures that expand universal suicide prevention and messages of hope and help for the populations across the lifespan; 3) improves identification, referral and engagement interventions for at-risk individuals; 4) provides for technical assistance and consultation services for suicide prevention, intervention and postvention measures across systems and agencies; and 5) builds the capacity of organizations serving vulnerable sub-populations to effectively deliver coordinated care. Finally, the program works towards producing a statewide infrastructure for culturally competent, caring, comprehensive, sustainable suicide prevention, intervention, and follow-up system of care.
In 2001, Valley HealthCare System responded to an Announcement of Fund Availability from the Children’s Division of the Office of Behavioral Health Services in the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources Bureau for Behavioral Health and Health Facilities. Valley HealthCare System proposed the development and implementation of a public awareness and information project to create awareness and understanding of a silent epidemic: suicide among adolescents in West Virginia.
The small grant, funded through the Community-Based Mental Health Services Block Grant, enabled the creation of the Helping Our Teens Thrive Coalition (HOTT Coalition). This coalition was composed of representatives of health and behavioral health providers, educators, and interested individuals. In the beginning years, several seminars and workshops were provided to alert school personnel and the interested public in the number of children who were dying by suicide in West Virginia as well as what was needed to prevent such untimely and tragic deaths.
The workshops and seminars were well received and the HOTT Coalition was re-formed and expanded into the West Virginia Council for the Prevention of Suicide. The WVCPS understood that people of all ages die by suicide. The “target population” addressed by the WVCPS was expanded to include adults and the Council began providing bi-annual conferences which attracts several hundred health and behavioral health providers and other individuals. A Website (http://www.wvsuicidecouncil.org/) has been created, providing statistics and information on suicide and offering help for individuals in crisis. The Council has developed awareness curriculums covering all age groups, and currently provides workshops covering the entire lifespan.
In addition to information and education, the Council sponsored the development of protocols for suicide assessment with Dr. William Fremouw from the WVU Department of Psychology. The Council, along with Dr. Fremouw, have developed suicide risk assessment for three age groups, the Adolescent Screening and Assessment Protocol-20 (ASAP-20), the Suicidal Adult Assessment Protocol (SAAP), and the Suicidal Older Adult Protocol (SOAP) . These instruments have been published in the Book Innovation in Clinical Practice.
On September 30, 2006, West Virginia Bureau of Behavioral Health and Health Facilities, in collaboration with West Virginia Council for the Prevention of Suicide and Prestera Center, was awarded approximately 1.4 million dollars for a three-year period through SAMHSA’s Garrett Lee Smith Memorial grant in order to fund the Adolescent Suicide Prevention and Early Intervention (ASPEN) Project. Specifically, the project was developed to provide a comprehensive base support for suicide awareness, prevention and early intervention efforts in providing response for identification, suicide assessment, crisis intervention and referrals to at-risk youth. Re-Awarded in 2009, the project built upon the initial experiences in expanding to additional populations of at-risk adolescents , as well as in newly identified high-incident-rate rural counties. During the course of the two federally funded periods, the project provided for: training to greater than 15,000 youth and adults; screening for more than 5000 youth, and referral for over 1000 of the at-risk youth identified. In addition, the project participated in hundreds of events promoting suicide prevention and mental health awareness efforts in order to acknowledge suicide as a significant public health issue. Finally, the project was successful in implementing policy and protocol advances in the efforts of suicide prevention and intervention.
Currently the project is funded through the Bureau for Behavioral Health and Health Facilities and the Bureau for Public Health. The project continues to refine and develop and provide for train the trainer curricula in order to increase the number of gatekeeper trainers throughout the state; provided for tiered suicide prevention and intervention training; provide for consultation and technical assistance for various agencies and systems serving at-risk individuals and advocate for enhanced prevention and intervention efforts statewide. Overall, ASPEN provided enhanced education, communication, collaboration and connections among the entities interacting with at-risk youth will in order to rectify system gaps so as to facilitate a culturally competent, caring, comprehensive, sustainable suicide prevention, intervention and postvention system of care.