Strengthening Kenosha and preventing suicides

Dec. 10, 2013 College News - In 2005 and 2006, Kenosha County reviewed injury data which placed suicide as a top concern. The county also suffered a tragic bump in teen suicides during those years.

“This issue really brought our group together to say this is something we need to focus on,” said Debbie Rueber, Health Services Coordinator for the Kenosha County Division of Health.

A diverse group, including the health department and mental health professionals among others, joined together to form the Kenosha County Suicide Prevention Coalition, which was funded by the Healthier Wisconsin Partnership Program (HWPP) in 2005 as part of an award that built injury prevention coalitions in Wisconsin. HWPP is a component of Advancing a Healthier Wisconsin, a fund with the mission of improving the health of the people of Wisconsin.

The Medical College of Wisconsin has partnered with the Kenosha coalition from the beginning. Amy Zosel, MD, MSCS, now serves as the representative of that partnership, bringing expertise on adolescent prescription drug abuse along with experience in designing and evaluating community health strategies.

The coalition focuses its efforts on two of these strategies to prevent suicides. First, the coalition has implemented programs to restrict access to the common tools people use to harm themselves. Second, the coalition focuses on educating counselors, mental health and health care providers, and community members about the warning signs of suicide and how to effectively intervene through an evidence-based practice called Question, Persuade, Refer.

“With self-harm, a lot of times people will make a rash decision,” Rueber said. ”Means restriction puts a speed bump in their way to create more time for them to think about it or for someone to intervene, so that there is a better chance of survival.”

With help from the Charles E. Kubly Foundation, the coalition has restricted access to firearms by distributing close to 18,000 cable gun locks in Kenosha and throughout the state.

For poisonings, the coalition focuses on collecting unused and expired medication to prevent overdoses.

“We have four medication drop boxes in Kenosha and we are hoping to add two more by the end of the year,” Rueber said. “Twice a year, we are able to dispose of the medication safely through the Drug Enforcement Agency.”

The Kenosha Suicide Prevention Coalition also focuses on education through workshops like the 2013 Clergy Summit.

“Clergy members,” Rueber said, “felt that they were not well-equipped with information about mental health resources and what to look for in terms of suicide warning signs.”  

Through education and means restriction, the coalition will continue to address suicides in Kenosha County while also providing guidance to suicide prevention efforts in other counties.

“I think our partnership is our greatest strength,” Rueber said. “People look at Kenosha and ask us for help because our partnership has made the community stronger.”

In honor of MCW’s 120th anniversary, we will be sharing stories like this one that highlight the College’s contributions to creating healthier communities. A new web page commemorating MCW’s 120th Anniversary includes links to a display of milestones in our history and a list of nearly 200 significant research discoveries made by faculty physicians and scientists throughout the years.  These discoveries have saved lives and improved health in our community, in Wisconsin and beyond.

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