St. Louis County announces new suicide prevention efforts

Josh Gorham, St. Louis County Public Health Program Coordinator, announces details of a $320,000 grant to help suicide prevention efforts on the Iron Range and northern St. Louis County. Submitted / St. Louis County
The number of people who have died by suicide in Minnesota has increased by 40 percent in the last 20 years — and the rate in St. Louis County is more than one and a half times that of in the Twin Cities metro area.

In rural areas, such as northern St. Louis County, people needing mental and substance abuse care can face barriers including lack of providers, stigma and lack of financial resources.

To try and counter this, the Minnesota Department of Health has awarded a grant to St. Louis County to fund a series of suicide prevention efforts. The grant, worth $80,000 per year for each of the next four years, will support “Thrive Range,” a multi-prong initiative to deliver sustainable mental health and substance misuse resources to the Iron Range and northern St. Louis County.

Thrive Range will be coordinated by St. Louis County Public Health and Dr. Ursula Whiteside, a Hibbing native and nationally recognized leader in suicide prevention research. Efforts will focus on three areas:

Healthcare: Thrive Range will work with area health systems on “Zero Suicide”, a national initiative that is proven to reduce suicides within healthcare systems.

Schools: St. Louis County Public Health will offer support and leadership with Iron Range schools through a program called Hope Squad. This approach provides prevention and intervention for mental health and substance-related problems within the school setting.

Community: ThriveRange.org will provide access to free, confidential mental health and substance use resources 24/7. A landing page connects visitors to suicide prevention, mental health, and substance use computerized online interventions. Particular focus will be to provide help for men and military veterans, two groups with higher rates of suicide in the region. Free cognitive behavioral therapy also will be offered through a website.

“I am excited and hopeful that we can make a real difference,” said Gorham. “We have already seen, just in preparation for applying for the grant, that Iron Rangers are ready to address this issue head on. Now, with some funding, time, and new tools and resources, it is possible for our friends and family to not only survive, but thrive.”

“With funds from this grant, we will be able to focus on prevention, intervention, and postvention in our schools,” said Cassandra Hainey, executive director of Volunteers in Education. “Postvention is what you do in the hours, days, and weeks after a suicide occurs. And truly, postvention is prevention. Not only are there things we can do as a community, there are things we can do as individuals, and there are ways we can equip and support our kids.”

“We think that this project is ambitious, but with the community support, anything can happen,” said Whiteside. “My brother Tom, our Range colleagues and I set out last December to help find additional resources to support the Range. Because of the enormous hearts there, I think the Range is the perfect place to engage those passionate about this project.”

“Suicide is a threat to our communities’ health and wellness. Victims of suicide are our family members, colleagues, friends, and classmates,” said Jenny Uhrich Swanson, network director of the Ely Behavioral Health Network. “The good news is, the vast majority of people who consider suicide don’t die by suicide. Iron Range communities may be isolated from resources but we are strong and have a powerful sense of community. When we focus on our strengths instead of our weaknesses, we can recover both individually and as a community.”

Thrive Range was first started as an advisory board prior to the grant application. The group conducted a survey and petition, collecting signatures from more than 1,000 citizens on the Iron Range indicating they, “strongly support the Thrive Range project proposal and the addition of critical resources to support mental health on the Range.”

To learn more, visit thriverange.org. People also are invited to follow their facebook page at facebook.com/thriverange.