By Rick Wallace
For VashonBePrepared/Vashon Emergency Operations Center
VashonBePrepared has launched a suicide prevention campaign to support the mental health of islanders, burdened by months of struggle and isolation stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The campaign begins on September 10, World Suicide Prevention Day, with a free live broadcast, “Tales from the Edge: Suicide Survivors Share Their Stories.” Weeks of public education will follow, to help Vashon residents and island mental health practitioners learn to recognize the warning signs of suicide, what to say to a person in need, and how to take action to help them.
“Our community has done well so far at containing the virus, but islanders face a potentially grave threat as the pandemic drags on,” said Jinna Risdal, leader of Vashon’s Community Care Team and an island mental health practitioner. “We are seeing a surge in substance abuse, domestic abuse, loneliness, and depression as our clients look down the road, and it feels like there’s no end in sight. All these mental health challenges can build up to deadly consequences, and that’s why we’re focusing initially on suicide prevention.”
To launch the suicide prevention campaign, veteran Voice of Vashon host Susan McCabe will lead the broadcast discussion, helping three panelists share their lessons from confronting suicide in themselves, in their families and in their mental health clients. Everyone can tune in to the broadcast at no charge at 7 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 10. Vashon Center for the Arts has provided the space and technology for the broadcast, and viewers can access it at vashoncenterforthearts.org.
“Pandemic pressures have weighed heavily on Vashonians, and we hope this broadcast will start giving our community tools to help each other deal with its devastating impacts,” McCabe said. “The pandemic has touched us all in one way or another. This is a time we can all pull together by watching for signs of trouble among our family members, friends, and colleagues.”
The Vashon Emergency Operations Center reports that a quarter of all Vashon workers have applied for unemployment benefits at some point since the pandemic began, and a Chamber of Commerce survey showed that 40 percent of island businesses went dark at the peak of lockdown.
The pressure on local business owners hasn’t let up as the pandemic has stretched into its seventh month. Approximately 38 percent of business owners were worried about paying their bills in August and beyond, according to a recent survey of members of the Vashon Chamber of Commerce. Eighty-five percent said they had lost a quarter or more of their revenue versus last year’s revenue at this time.
Additionally, hundreds of families are worrying about getting enough food, keeping their homes, and being forced to choose between essential work paychecks and COVID safety. Students and parents also now face the many stresses of continued online learning, as classrooms remain closed. Isolated seniors are descending into loneliness and depression, according to reports from island mental health workers.
“We will raise public awareness and understanding using the L.E.A.R.N. suicide prevention tools,” said Wren Hudgins, one of the campaign organizers. “We will be supporting the work of mental health providers and social service agencies by offering free advanced suicide prevention training so they can be a vital safety net for those seeking help.”
The campaign has been built around the L.E.A.R.N. suicide prevention program, developed by Forefront Suicide Prevention at the University of Washington. The island suicide prevention campaign is a project of the Community Care Team, which is the mental health arm of the Vashon Medical Reserve Corps, one of the many all-volunteer groups in the VashonBePrepared emergency response coalition.
Vashon’s all-volunteer Emergency Operations Center was activated on March 12th to organize and support pandemic response under the Incident Command direction of Chief Charlie Krimmert of Vashon Island Fire & Rescue. More than 80 volunteers have put in time on the emergency, working on a range of support programs for households, neighborhoods, businesses, unemployed workers, and health care.
— Rick Wallace is the Manager of Vashon’s Emergency Operations Center.
Spiritual care team ready to listen
Islanders who feel drained in soul and spirit by the ongoing pandemic have a place to turn for free, confidential conversations with five island professionals with long histories in social work, ministry, family counseling, chaplaincy and dealing with grief and loss.
The group, organized under the umbrella of VashonBePrepared and called the Care of the Spirit Team, can be reached from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week, through the Community Care Team Help Line at 206.701.0694, which offers two prompts. Option one puts callers in touch with mental health professionals while option two connects callers with a member of the Care of the Spirit Team.
And for those who aren’t quite ready to pick up the phone and call, the team has posted a portfolio of poems, prayers and spiritual practices at vashonbeprepared.org/en-us/COVID-Resources/For-Our-Spiritual-Health. The materials on the site include a poem for hope, a prayer for courage, and a practice for finding closeness to loved ones when you can no longer see or hug them. There are also short audios of meditation exercises.
The team, according to VashonBePrepared, is committed to compassionate listening and mutual reflection. They guide conversations based on the experiences and goals of the caller regardless of religious belief or unbelief and all conversations are confidential.
Care of the Spirit Team members are:
- Tom Craighead, a retired Episcopal priest, hospice chaplain and clinical social worker who helps individuals and families deal with crisis, loss and death. He is especially adept in assisting skeptics, non-believers and those harmed by religion.
- Koshin Cain, a Zen Buddhist minister and co-founder of the island’s Zen Center who is familiar with a range of Buddhist and Christian meditative traditions and techniques. He focuses on helping people experiencing stress and uncertainty.
- Jeri Jo Carstairs, a licensed marriage and family therapist and nearly 50-year island resident whose work centers on relationships, transitions and dying journeys. She describes herself as “an honored ally and creative listener.”
- Carol Spangler, a spiritual director who accompanies individuals and families dealing with grief, meaning and loss as death approaches. A Quaker and student of Zen Buddhism, she is team leader for the Vashon Conversation for the Living about Dying program.
- Carla Pryne, who retired as the rector of Vashon’s Episcopal Church has a long history of ecumenical, interfaith and environmental activism (she founded Earth Ministry). She helps people recognize and deepen their spiritual paths in the face of hardships like COVID.