SUICIDE PREVENTION TAKES CENTER STAGE IN VERMONT - Howard Center04/13/2023 02:38PM ● By MERYL SIEGMAN
A fixture in Burlington since the mid- nineteenth century, Howard Center has over fifty locations throughout the city and Chittenden County, with several in other parts of the state. A national leader in providing integrated community-based support for individuals, families, and communities, it offers high quality mental health care, treatment for substance use disorders, and developmental disability services for those in need.
We recently spoke with Charlotte McCorkel, the Senior Director of Client Services, about the Center’s initiative to educate the public about suicide, including its prevention and how to cope with its aftermath and its impact on the community.
AN EXPERT ON SUICIDE PREVENTION
Charlotte is an expert on suicide prevention. A licensed clinical social worker, she arrived at Howard Center in 2008. As the senior director of client services, she has served in many different roles across the agency, most of them related to crisis work and increasing access to services.
Charlotte took an interest in suicide prevention early on in her career, explaining, “I saw how prevention can have an important impact on our community.” With years of experience and training with schools, youth mentors, parent groups, and other human service agencies related to suicide prevention, she is perfectly suited to lead Howard Center’s latest initiative.
In collaboration with a team of associates, Charlotte has led the effort to create four Suicide Prevention Resource Guides and developed the materials that are currently being distributed to businesses about suicide “postvention”, an organized response to the aftermath of a suicide to promote healing and mitigate the negative effects it causes.
SUICIDE AS A HEALTH ISSUE
“We see suicide prevention as a public health issue,” says Charlotte. “We target employers as a way of reaching out to the general public, so that we can provide both employers and their staff with basic information about prevention. And when a suicide does occur, the postvention principles used can help healing after the tragic incident and prevent other suicides.”
Vermont has a suicide rate that, in Charlotte’s words, is “concerning.” She continues, “It’s the highest among all the states in the northeast. Suicide is increasing across the country and across populations, which is why making prevention services available to those at risk as well as to their families and the public is such a priority. We want to make reaching out for help as easy as possible.”
Charlotte goes on to say that big primary factors in Vermont’s growing rate of suicide include the state’s ruralism, increased isolation and decreased access to services. She points out, “The leading cause of suicide is firearms. In Vermont, there is a particularly high rate of firearm ownership.” As a result, Howard Center places a great deal of emphasis on teaching folks how to keep firearms secure, such as through safe storage.
GETTING THE WORD OUT
“One of our biggest goals is to get the word out about our services,” Charlotte says, “which includes helping with mental health, substance use and disabilities, across the lifespan from early childhood services to eldercare. One of the reasons suicide prevention is so important is that it can impact all aspects of community.”
To further Howard Center’s most recent effort to reach employers, it partnered with the Center for Health and Learning, with funding provided by the Vermont Community Foundation. The goal was to create resources for employers in Burlington and statewide related to suicide prevention, including how they can support their staff if a suicide or other tragic event takes place.
Howard Center has a 24/7 crisis hotline, First Call for Chittenden County, (802)488- 7777. As of July of 2022, people can call 988 for help, connecting them to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Its purpose is to make seeking assistance for suicide prevention as easy as calling 911. For those more comfortable with texting, there is also the Vermont Crisis Text Line: 741741. In either case, people in need are connected to the closest crisis center. If it is determined that they require a face-to-face appointment or ongoing help, they are connected to Howard Center if they are in Chittenden County, or, if not, to their local designated agency.
“Part of our reason for providing suicide prevention messaging is that we want people to reach out for help as early as possible and in any way they feel comfortable,” Charlotte explains. Because people sometimes feel embarrassed or stigmatized, they need encouragement to seek help in a way that is completely private and confidential, just like speaking with their medical doctor would be.
Resources are available not only to those experiencing a crisis, but also to their friends, family members and employers. “Suicide impacts more than just family – it also affects other parts of the community,” Charlotte says. “We want employers and the public in general to have access to prevention and postvention information and services, so in case of emergency, they are as prepared as possible to respond.”
SUICIDE PREVENTION RESOURCES
Howard Center has distributed the Howard Center Suicide Prevention Across the Lifespan Guide and other materials to libraries, primary care offices and places of employment, so as many people as possible have the necessary information at their fingertips.
“Suicide is often seen as a private, scary and stigmatized topic,” Charlotte concludes. “By getting as much material as possible out to the community, we hope people will have the necessary information and resources to be able to support their loved ones and community.”
The resource guides referenced in this article can be found at howardcenter.org/ community-education/suicide-prevention. If you or a loved one are experiencing a suicide crisis, please call 911 or 988; in Chittenden County call Howard Center’s First Call for Chittenden County at 802-488-7777.
Burlington, VT 05401