Today SevenPonds speaks with Jennifer D. Lockman, M.S., of the non-profit organization Centerstone Research Institute. Based in Tennessee and Indiana, CRI aims to improve the quality of care for behavioral health disorders, including those that often result in suicide. Together with a passionate research team, Jennifer has been able to provide dynamic insights into the causes behind such disorders. It is one of the most crucial steps in our ever-changing perception of how to prevent suicide and a key to fostering “physical whole-person wellness” in America.
MaryFrances: What is Centerstone, and what is your role there?
Jennifer : Centerstone exists to improve the quality and effectiveness of care for individuals and families facing behavioral health disorders. We strive to create a future where all individuals and families facing behavioral health disorders receive exceptional care, grounded in mental and physical whole-person wellness.
At CRI, I have served as the lead program evaluator of two Garrett Lee Smith Suicide Prevention Grants awarded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services. My team and I use data from surveys, focus groups and state-wide databases to learn how suicide prevention programs can be more effective in our community. With what we learn from our data, we help communities prevent deaths by suicide.
MaryFrances: How so, specifically?
Jennifer: In March 2013, for example, we partnered with state-wide and national partners and launched the Shield of Care suicide prevention curriculum. The curriculum is now on the National Best Practices Registry for Suicide Prevention.
MaryFrances: How did you become involved with Centerstone?
Jennifer: I began working for Centerstone in 2007. I was immediately drawn to the company’s philosophy of using data to improve practice in behavioral healthcare.
MaryFrances: How have your perceptions of suicide prevention been altered or challenged throughout your work?
Jennifer: When I first began working for CRI, I wondered if suicide was truly “preventable” through public health prevention efforts. Our data, first and foremost, suggests that suicide prevention programs are effective in helping community members build their knowledge of suicide warning signs, change attitudes about suicide and increase their confidence for helping suicidal youth. Thus, providing communities with training in suicide prevention increases the likelihood that service professionals have essential tools needed to prevent deaths by suicide.
MaryFrances: When are suicide prevention programs most effective, according to your data?
Jennifer: When individuals (a) know their specific suicide prevention role in their organization, (b) know policies and protocols for preventing suicide, and (c) are embedded in a work culture that supports their suicide prevention efforts.
I suppose you can say our data, coupled with evaluations throughout the country, has convinced me that public health approaches to suicide prevention can be effective.
MaryFrances: Do you have any tips for helping communities prevent suicide deaths?
Jennifer: Yes. Here are a few strategies that we have found to be effective:
1. Whether you are a parent, teacher, banker, food service worker, engage in suicide prevention training.
2. Foster activities in your community that build connectedness.
3. Remain hopeful. If a loved one or someone you know is thinking of suicide, recognize that there are effective treatments available. Persons who were once suicidal can build resiliency to these thoughts and experience greater wellness and quality of life.
I also recommend that anyone interested in getting more information on suicide prevention visit the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, which offers training materials and resources for communities, the public and mental health providers.
MaryFrances: What would you say are some of the cultural taboos or misconceptions on suicide?
Jennifer: Many cultural myths about suicide characterize the suicidal person as “weak” or “selfish” by taking their own life. However, Dr. Thomas Joiner has completed pioneering research that suggests that individuals may enact their own deaths because they carry a false belief that their death would be worth more than their lives.
Consider, for example, an older adult who dies by suicide because they believe that their death will allow their family members not to be “burdened” with their end of life care. Although their family would certainly not see the person’s death as “relieving a burden,” the suicidal person may believe this to be so. Thus, Joiner’s interpersonal theory of suicide suggests that a person’s suicidal thoughts do not originate out of selfishness, but rather selflessness.
MaryFrances: Thank you, Jennifer.
Jennifer: Thank you.