Looking back – and forward

June 23, 2021

Looking back – and forward

At the beginning of 2018, thanks to the dedicated work of a number of individuals who were concerned about the rising rates of suicides in Fond du Lac County, Advancing a Healthier Wisconsin awarded a grant to CSI of Fond du Lac to support the implementation of a variety of suicide prevention strategies here in Fond du Lac County. Named “Destination Zero”, this initiative aimed to apply the Zero Suicide framework – which has been shown to dramatically decrease suicides in health care settings – at the community level, highlighting the importance of suicide prevention in ALL settings.

In June of 2018, a two-day training was held in which individuals from 18 local organizations came together to learn about Zero Suicide and how to apply the framework at their agency. My first days as the coordinator of Destination Zero were spent attending this event, meeting and learning alongside many of the folks I would spend the next three years working with. Now, as Destination Zero draws to a close at the end of this month, it is time to reflect on all that has been accomplished and think about the ways the work will continue in the years to come. 

Measuring the impact of activities which aim to prevent something from happening is often difficult, especially with something as complex as suicide. However, looking back it is easy to see the many ways that Destination Zero activities have had a positive impact throughout the county. Notable accomplishments include:

  • Close to 2,000 individuals who live or work in Fond du Lac County have attended a QPR suicide prevention training. We now have more than 50 certified QPR trainers from over 30 different local agencies and organizations who can facilitate the training at their organizations and in the community. Multiple local employers already have or are in the process of establishing ongoing staff training protocols in suicide prevention.
  • The Fond du Lac Warrior Summit, which took place in October 2019, focused on improving the mental health of Veterans and their families. The summit was attended by 120 individuals (many of them Veterans) and included 20 resource tables from agencies who provide support and services to Veterans and their families. The vast majority of attendees reported having a better understanding of the emotional and spiritual needs of Veterans, service members, and their families.
  • The Pathways to Care mental health resource navigation guide was developed as both a printed document and an online tool. Nearly 10,000 copies of the printed document have been distributed and are being used within a variety of agencies and settings throughout the county, including school districts and local universities, law enforcement, county departments, healthcare, and area businesses. The online tool receives steady traffic and was recently updated to include crisis numbers and mental health resources in surrounding counties.
  • Several different trainings (including Crisis Response Planning, De-Escalation and Coping Skills to Prevent & Manage Crisis Situations, and Motivational Interviewing for Suicide Prevention) were hosted to equip local providers and support agencies with tools to provide suicide-safer care to the individuals they serve. These sessions brought together both non-clinical and clinical partners from wide variety of local organizations and many attendees noted the benefits of learning alongside peers from other area agencies.
  • Creation of a support group for individuals who are grieving the death of a loved one by suicide, facilitated by two knowledgeable individuals who themselves are survivors of such a loss. The Survivors of Suicide Loss support group meets monthly and provides a space for these individuals to come together, listen to each other’s stories, discuss shared struggles, and offer encouragement and hope.

These accomplishments are certainly worth celebrating, but equally exciting is the knowledge that many of the initiatives which were started or bolstered over the last three years will continue after Destination Zero ends. This will be accomplished largely through the work of Prevent Suicide Fond du Lac County (PSFDL) and CSI’s Mental Health Access committee. Both committees are comprised of dedicated, passionate individuals from a variety of organizations, and are led by highly competent chairs (Miranda Amerling & Kaitlyn Kenealy for PSFDL, and Alicia Hans for Mental Health Access) who are committed to keeping the momentum going. It is difficult to put into words how grateful I am to have Miranda, Kaitlyn, and Alicia at the helm!

The ongoing commitment of several local organizations is another important factor in the continuation of the work. Thanks to a partnership with Marian University’s Counseling Center and an ongoing Psychology Department internship, we have secured a sustainable way to coordinate QPR trainings, distribute printed copies of Pathways to Care, and regularly update the online tool. The Fond du Lac Family YMCA will continue to host QPR sessions which are free and open to the public every other month. NAMI Fond du Lac has offered their Friendship Corner as a regular meeting space for the Survivors of Suicide Loss support group. And finally, the Fond du Lac County Health Department will continue to take the lead on organizing and facilitating the Suicide Death Review process which gathers much needed data and brings together a team of individuals who develop recommendations for preventing future suicides in our county.

Over the last three years I have seen firsthand the ways lives have been touched and systems have been changed by the work we have done. QPR attendees who feel more confident in their ability to help someone who is struggling, employers that take steps to ensure their employees know how support someone in distress, providers who gain skills to better serve their clients and advocate for policy changes, and committee members who bring vital energy and passion to special projects – all are evidence of the positive impact we set out to achieve.

I am extremely thankful for the opportunity I have had to work closely with so many wonderful individuals and organizations across Fond du Lac County. The cross-sector collaboration between local agencies I have witnessed, and the concerted suicide prevention efforts being undertaken by area organizations gives me confidence that real, lasting changes will continue to be made and lives WILL be saved.

Tammi Kohlman


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