Efforts in communitywide suicide prevention are still well under way in Columbia County, despite the recent exit of Columbia Health Services' suicide prevention coordinator, Weston Perkins-Clark.
In the interim, CHS Prevention Coordinator Heather Anderson is overseeing the suicide prevention body of work while the organization aims to fill Perkins-Clark's former role, including moving forward with the upcoming Survive & Thrive Resource Fair on Feb. 8, spearheaded by the Suicide Prevention Task Force, or SPTF.
"The work Weston accomplished during his time as the suicide prevention coordinator in Columbia County has moved us forward. January has been a very busy month for suicide prevention work," Anderson said. "The SPTF has been key in continuing the planning and prepping for this event."
Perkins-Clark caught up with the Spotlight from Vancouver, Washington, where he is now an integration specialist for Sea Mar — a system of community health centers that spans from Bellingham, Washington, to Vancouver. He said the fair was born from a conversation during an August SPTF meeting. During the summer talks, the group focused on supporting mental health during this specific time of year.
"We wanted to focus on mental health, but knew mental health is impacted by our entire lives, so we decided to focus on that instead. Michele Wilson of SAFE (of Columbia County) actually came up
with the title," Perkins-Clark said.
Perkins-Clark said he believes the county is sitting in a much better place than it was at the end of 2018, the year the suicide rate for Columbia County doubled.
"I can't take credit for that. The drive from the community is what got us where we are, which is a 50 percent reduction in suicide from 2018 to 2019. That's no small feat," he said. "The community really had a lot to do with it. Without buy in and word of mouth, we wouldn't have gotten where we did."
The community is now invited to the Survive & Thrive Fair, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 8, in the St. Helens High School gym. The event will feature local health resources, suicide prevention training, trauma-informed yoga, a presentation on adverse childhood experiences (which lend themselves to ACE scores in the mental health field) inluding information on protective factors and resilience building, as well as an assortment of crafts for children.
The fair brings together vendors and organizations like SAFE of Columbia County, The Amani Center, Columbia Community Mental Health, and the Columbia Pacific CCO under one roof.
Anderson said the event would not have been possible without the teamwork between these organizations and the SPTF, and those individuals willing to share their knowledge.
"The cost has been pretty minimal due to many organizations and task force members offering their support," Anderson said.
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