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Post Prevention Work Aims to Make the Wood River Valley More Resilient
Friday, May 12, 2023


Alex Arriaga can’t stop thinking about what she might have done differently to help her niece.

“When we lost my niece, I was despairing. Why wasn’t I able to help her?” she said, looking out at a roomful of people gathered at the Limelight Hotel. “If she was here, I wouldn’t be here. But today—this is the gift. This is for her. We need to care for one another—that’s why we’re here. Hopefully we start talking more about mental health. We have to be brave to talk about things, to ask people, ‘How do you feel?’ ”

Arriaga, a mother of three who lives in Carey, may not have been able to help her niece. But she’s trying her best to save others from death by suicide.

She’s gotten involved with the 5B Suicide Prevention Alliance, teaching others the signs to look for in someone who’s emotionally distressed. And on this particular night she joined others over a taco bar, churros and mocktails served up by the Limelight Hotel as she learned about the Alliance’s newest efforts to build resilience in the community.

The Alliance has just finished creating a post prevention plan and is putting together a post prevention team designed to provide suicide prevention for the next generation, said Tod Gunter, a school counselor who has been involved with 5B Suicide Prevention Alliance since its founding seven years ago.

The “post” part refers to what happens after suicide, which has a huge impact, he said.

It piggybacks on the efforts of the Hospice of the Wood River Valley. Any time there’s a sudden death in the county, such as a death by suicide, EMS calls hospice workers who offer support to family members of the deceased.

The 5B Suicide Prevention Alliance wants to take that one step further, providing assistance to workplaces, schools and other groups that were associated with the deceased. Doing so could prevent another death by suicide in the future for someone who was traumatized by a friend or family member’s death.

The Alliance will give material to EMS workers who can give that material to families in case they want to reference it later.

“Suicide has a huge impact not just on the immediate family but the entire community,” said Gunter. “One of the keys to prevention is to have this in place to take care of families and others following a death by suicide. This is not just support for now. It’s support for the future.”

The alliance also has been working on a Lethal Means Campaign community campaign to educate community members about safe disposal of drugs and firearm safety, said Brittany Shipley, executive director of NAMI-Wood River Valley, the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

This includes safe boxes for prescription drugs and bags for the safe disposal of drugs so they’re not flushed into the waste stream or left lying around where someone can abuse them. It also includes locks for firearms.

“The safest way to keep firearms is to store unloaded firearms in a different location from the ammunition,” she added.

The 5B Suicide Prevention Alliance meets once a month. It’s made up of individuals representing government agencies, police, schools, faith communities, The Advocates, Higher Ground, St. Luke’s for Community Health, NAMI-Wood River Valley and The Crisis Hotline, as well as individuals who want to do what they can to make the community more resilient.

“We focus on things keep us healthy, including knowing the signs when someone’s suffering,” said therapist Laurie Strand, citing such signs as personality changes, isolation and hopelessness. “To keep well, let’s go back to the basics—sleep, nutrition, exercise, checking out with down time...”

Mark Inouye, pastor of the Presbyterian Church of the Big Wood, said he is thankful for the work the 5B Suicide Prevention Alliance has done: “Dealing with issues of mental health and suicide prevention is something that every congregation faces so I’m thrilled by their work on this.”

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