Shari Sinwelski, vice president of national networks, Vibrant Emotional Health and deputy director of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, says the organization may update the imminent risk policy to reflect recent feedback about police involvement, include details about how to successfully use the collaboration strategies, and emphasize the importance of deploying a mobile crisis team, that often includes a social worker or counselor, instead of emergency services.
Leah Harris, a suicide attempt survivor and member of the Lifeline’s lived experience committee, is skeptical that Vibrant Emotional Health — or any of the other major suicide prevention organizations — will transform themselves without radical change that includes CEOs and board members stepping down to be replaced with people from diverse backgrounds and "divergent perspectives".
The very approach of traditional suicide prevention, which revolves around a clinician’s expertise, evidence-based interventions, and changing individual behavior, can feel biased, irrelevant, or unhelpful to not just Native Americans, but also to Black people and other people of color, says Suyemoto.
At the same time, David Michael Snoberger, a volunteer counselor with hundreds of hours of experience, saw an opportunity to support those staff members by making public his own long-held concerns about Crisis Text Line’s lack of robust cultural competency training for its 37,000 volunteers, and its "active rescue" policy for aiding texters it deemed at imminent risk of attempting suicide.
Over time, he worried that Crisis Text Line’s policy of contacting emergency services to intervene before a suicide attempt could bring harm to people of color who are often perceived by first responders and law enforcement as threatening, even when they’re not experiencing a mental health crisis.
After his election, the organization’s board hired diversity and equity consultant Pata Suyemoto, chair of the Massachusetts Coalition for Suicide Prevention Alliance for Equity’s People of Color Caucus.
Suyemoto believes that for suicide prevention to become fundamentally anti-racist, the interventions and treatments tested on predominantly white clinical trial participants need to be re-evaluated to see if they’re equally effective in patients who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color.
In 2019, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, set goals to increase diversity in the ranks of its national and local board leadership, provide cultural sensitivity training to staff, and expand the reach of its suicide prevention programs into more communities of color.
Vibrant Emotional Health, which operates the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, created tip sheets to help counselors talk about racism and civil unrest, which they distributed to the 170 crisis centers in its network.
Vibrant Emotional Health, the nonprofit organization that operates the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, also began reassessing its imminent risk policy after Floyd’s death.
The work of suicide prevention is "grounded in the assumption that people live in a world that believes their life matters," says Singer, who is white.
AAS’ recent statement on equity and anti-racism lays out specific measures, including diversifying its board, developing scholarships awarded to underrepresented researchers, and advocating for funding to understand the factors that increase suicide risk for people of color.
Squandering the chance to transform the work of suicide prevention would be more than a missed opportunity — it could leave more people of color at risk of suicide without the vital treatment and support they need to find hope and survive.
For years, Kipp says she’s been battling not just the suicide epidemic in tribal communities but also structures and systems — inadequate Congressional funding, culturally incompetent clinician training, scientific grant processes that favor certain types of research — that make it harder for her to help save lives.
The example is one of countless ways that suicide prevention isn’t equipped to address the needs and unique experiences of Black, brown, or Indigenous people.
"Depending on where you are or what your background is, it may look more like help or more like punishment." https://t.co/Zj7pq4Tgzr— Mashable (@mashable) September 6, 2020
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