City leaders make suicide-prevention training a priority
Several members of the Lake Oswego Police Department will complete crucial training Thursday that will better equip them to handle situations that pose one of the greatest threats to the health and safety of the community: suicide.
Every officer in a supervisory role — from sergeants to Chief Dale Jorgensen — participated in a two-day Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) class hosted by Clackamas County this week.
The training is aimed at equipping LOPD officers and emergency communications staff with the knowledge and skills it takes to successfully recognize and help community members who are either at risk of suicide or currently in crisis.
The training is the latest move by the City of Lake Oswego to improve awareness around and prevent suicide after City leaders identified the issue as one of the most critical threats to the community. Identifying that threat began with former Police Chief Don Johnson and has carried full-force into the tenure of Chief Dale Jorgensen.
"I really applaud Chief Johnson for starting the conversation initially," says Assistant City Manager Megan Phelan, "and I'm really proud that Chief Jorgensen is continuing to carry that torch forward."
According to Phelan, the City really began to formulate its suicide prevention and awareness strategy in fall 2017, when all City staff and a handful of representatives from the Lake Oswego School District took part in suicide prevention and QPR (question, persuade and refer) training. It was at that point that Jorgensen proposed building on that initial training by taking part in the County's ASIST program for all LOPD employees in a supervisory role.
"Chief Jorgensen has committed to help give our employees the resources they need to not only take care of themselves in their jobs and what they see day to day, but also to be good stewards of our community and make sure we're looking out for each other in that regard as well," Phelan says.
Suicide is one of the leading causes of death across the nation, but in Oregon — and particularly Clackamas County— mental health services and law enforcement are seeing a disproportionate number of cases. According to the Oregon Health Authority, Oregon's suicide rate of 17.7 per 100,000 residents is 33 percent higher than the national average. Clackamas County has the highest suicide rate in the metro region at 15.6 per 100,000 residents.
And Lake Oswego is no different.
According to the LOPD, there have been five deaths by suicide in Lake Oswego in 2018, four of which occured in October. There have been 24 attempted suicides, police say, and countless threats of suicide and welfare checks made by police on behalf of family or friends who were worried about a loved one.
"When you look at the numbers, it's staggering," Jorgensen says. "Mental health is a daunting task, but you have to do something. You can't just sit back, watch it happen and not take some sort of proactive step."
By participating in the all-staff and ASIST training, officials say, Lake Oswego has positioned itself to be one of the communities best equipped to handle suicide prevention — not only in Clackamas County, but across the state.
According to Clackamas County Suicide Prevention Coordinator Galli Murray, Lake Oswego has achieved the gold standard of prevention and awareness. But what impresses her most, she says, is that through Phelan and Jorgensen, the conversation continues about how to further improve.
"In the next four months, 21 public safety leaders will take the gold standard in suicide prevention training," Murray says. "Lake Oswego is setting the bar very high for the rest of the county."
Murray is one of several administrators in charge of the County's Suicide Prevention Coalition — a group of about 50 individuals from across the county who in some way deal with mental health in a professional capacity, whether that's law enforcement, mental health services, education or public service. They've been meeting monthly since October to discuss ways to further improve the County's response to suicide as a public health issue.
Murray and County staff recently hosted listening sessions in communities across Clackamas County to get a sense of how best to create programs and policies that will keep suicide statistics from getting any worse. In Lake Oswego, Murray says, public officials, police, firefighters and City staff were not only engaged, they helped drive the conversation.
The coalition continues to meet and is currently appointing members to its steering committee, which will set goals and priorities for creating policy. According to Murray, LOPD Capt. Scott Thran has expressed an interest in being a member of that steering committee — an idea that Murray fully supports.
At the same time, Jorgensen has continued to propose his own set of innovative ideas. Among them: the creation of an Adult Resource Officer position — filled by Officer Dawn Pecoraro — that seeks to directly connect an LOPD officer with community members who have shown that they're in crisis or contemplating suicide.
It's an attempt, Jorgensen says, to bridge the gap between mental health services and the people on the front line who deal with mental health crises. Often after police respond to a mental health crisis or suicide threat, there's not a lot that can be done outside of getting the Clackamas County Behavioral Health Unit involved.
That's an extremely useful tool in dealing with these cases, Jorgensen says, but Pecoraro's new role allows the LOPD to quickly follow up with those dealing with a mental health crisis and connect them to services that could be life-changing for them.
"If we contact one person who attempted suicide and get them help, and they're no longer in crisis or never attempt again, we basically save a life and that pays for the program," Jorgensen says. "One person is a success."
Murray says she applauds the addition of the Adult Resource Officer position because it's an "upstream" approach to suicide prevention, meaning that it allows the LOPD to better partner with County resources to prevent people from falling through the cracks.
With the completion by LOPD staff of the County's ASIST program, Lake Oswego is now better equipped to handle suicide prevention than it's ever been, officials say. But Jorgensen and other City leaders aren't satisfied.
More people — including City staff, police and fire personnel — will be completing the ASIST training in January and in the months that follow in order to further bolster the City's preparedness level.
For Murray, one of the biggest steps she's seeing on the road to progress is that leaders like Jorgensen and others in Lake Oswego are realizing that suicide prevention is an issue that will take everyone's attention to fix.
"This isn't just a mental health issue or a law enforcement issue,' she says. "This is an everyone issue."
These organizations are here to help or provide more information on how you can help others:
Clackamas County Crisis Line: 503-655-8585 (provides 24/7 free and confidential support)
Clackamas County Urgent Mental Health walk-in center: 11211 S.E. 82nd Ave., Suite O, Happy Valley (open 7 days a week)
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: suicidepreventionlifeline.org>www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org
Lines for Life: www.Linesforlife.org
Vibrant Emotional Health: www.Vibrant.org
Suicide Awareness Voices in Education: www.Save.org
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: www.Afsp.org
Suicide Prevention Resource Center: www.Sprc.org
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: www.Samhsa.gov
National Alliance on Mental Illness: www.Nami.org