Oregon’s Zero Suicide Initiative is Making a Difference

Jul 13, 2020

Zero Suicide Initiative

Last year, Oregon’s news outlet’s banned together to break the silence about suicide. Now, the federal government is launching REACH, a $53 million campaign to reduce suicide. While Oregon’s suicide rates remain high, progress is happening through local implementation of the Zero Suicide Initiative.

LifeWorks NW, Washington County and other providers participate in this nationwide initiative to create communities where individuals, families, their doctors, mental health and addiction providers all work together to end suicide attempts and eliminate the possibility of attempts ending in death.

LifeWorks NW, who provides education and support to clinicians and families, while offering ongoing screenings and help to clients, saw a 29 percent reduction in client suicide attempts ending in death in 2018.

Then in 2019 Oregon’s first Zero Suicide Academy cohort completed extensive education, with participants from LifeWorks NW, Washington County Behavioral Health, and other metro providers. Now Clackamas County has adopted this effort.

A huge part of this effort is helping clinicians and their families become more comfortable actively engaging with clients on this topic. Surprisingly, even doctors and therapists find asking someone about their risk of suicide challenging, and it is especially hard for loved ones. Training and tools offered to clinicians and families can help them provide much needed support.

LifeWorks NW has initiated a wide scope of efforts, including providing screenings and safety plans to all clients, then follow up ongoing support to both at risk clients and family members.

“Our goal in participating in the Zero Suicide Academy is to see how to use our systems to help staff provide excellent clinical care,” said Diane Benavides Wille, LifeWorks NW project lead and Director of Equity & Inclusion. “We want to ensure consistent efforts across the system, creating both client-centric and electronic pathways to make it easy for clinicians to follow a tested protocol. By having the hard conversations with clients, and tracking their needs and concerns, we can provide ongoing support to anyone at risk.”

In addition, the cohort created materials for use in the home by individuals and family members to help them recognize danger signs and address concerns, according to Benavides Wille. They also developed a process and strategy for safeguarding medications and firearms in the home to make sure items often used in suicide attempts aren’t readily available.

“We have seen a significant drop in completed suicides already,” said Benavides Wille. “But this is a health concern that can destroy not only the individual, but their entire family. We won’t be satisfied until Oregon’s number is zero and stays that way in the future.”