UW-based suicide prevention program comes to Whidbey

State grant money has paired a University of Washington-based suicide prevention program with Island County Public Health in an attempt to raise awareness about suicide and depression in Island County.

State grant money has paired a University of Washington-based suicide prevention program with Island County Public Health in an attempt to raise awareness about suicide and depression in Island County.

The program, called Forefront, is new to Island County and program representatives have already begun collaborating with the public health department for suicide prevention education, as well as with Island County Human Services and the Community Health Advisory Board. The collaboration means there will now be more resources available to help prevent suicide by supplying additional education, training and establishing focus groups.

A central piece of the plan deals with prevention work in schools. Part of the new initiative makes it mandatory for school administrators to have a plan for crisis and training to know how to deal with a potentially suicidal situation. Forefront Project Director Jennifer Barron said that the program aims to help schools through the planning process and offers support throughout. A large aspect of that help is in the form of Catherine VanWetter, Island County field director for Forefront.

“Through the grants, Forefront was able to hire a field coordinator for Island County, someone who lives in the county and knows about the resources,” Barron said in an email. “Catherine VanWetter’s goal through the grants is to help create comprehensive planning around suicide prevention.”

The suicide prevention program received two grants this year, one for $100,000 from The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and another for $50,000 from Washington Women’s Foundation. The grants allowed Forefront to expand into three Washington counties. The counties were targeted due to having the highest suicide rates in recent years. They include Okanogan, Island and Stevens counties. The rates were determined using data collected between 2009 and 2013.

County suicide rates were measured by the amount of people out of 100,000 to die by suicide. Island County reported a rate of 20.4, while Okanogan had a rate of 25.2 and Stevens a rate of 16.2. That is compared to a statewide average of 14.5.

“I think it comes down to a lack of resources,” VanWetter said. “Part of it may have to do with having an older demographic and a large veteran population since those groups have higher rates, but I think resources are the bigger issue here.”

The issue lies in the disconnect in the processes of dealing with suicide prevention between police forces, the hospital and mental health commissions on Island County, according to VanWetter. She says Forefront aims to fill the gaps in those areas by implementing a new community health plan.

“This new collaboration to lead the community health improvement program for depression and suicide is an important step for our community’s health,” said Laura Luginbill, assessment and healthy communities director for Island County Public Health, in an email. “The impact of poor mental health is significant and devastating — this group had an important task before them.”

Forefront representatives have lobbied for legislation in Olympia with some success. Earlier this year, Barron and other representatives advocated for House Bill 2793, which raises awareness and provides education for gun buyers and requires safe storage of guns for safer households. Educational pamphlets are provided at the point of sale, with gun owners also going over precautionary measures with the customer. The bill passed.

Suicide is a preventable phenomenon,” VanWetter said. “How do we help towards prevention? Education. We’re not trying to come in and tell Island County to do things differently, we’re trying to be collaborative with the community.”


More in News

Community weaves together fundraiser after fiber theft

In late February, Lydia Christiansen and her husband Alan woke up to… Continue reading

Navy extends comment period on special ops training

The area where the Navy conducts special operations training may be expanded… Continue reading

Port gets $500k for parking lot in Mukilteo

Curt Gordon’s decade-long mission to build a parking lot is finally getting… Continue reading

Goat University not kidding around

Covering goats from head to tail

Ignacio Rivera appears in Island County Superior Court.
Man accused of biting off part of victim’s ear

A South Whidbey love triangle led to “a brutal beating” in which… Continue reading

Staff from Island County Human Services gave a presentation on housing issues and homelessness in the county to the Planning Commission Monday. The department has been able to help over 400 households with its Housing Support Center since it opened in August 2016, but there are still more than 400 households waiting for assistance, largely due to the lack of affordable housing. Photo by Laura Guido/Whidbey News Group
Point in Time count shows 170 without permanent housing

Over 170 people were counted as either unsheltered or in temporary housing… Continue reading

WhidbeyHealth seeking $20 million loan

Public meeting set for March 21

Many incumbents seeking re-election

It’s a big election year for Island County with many county positions… Continue reading

Lummi demand release of captive orca

‘She must be reunited with her family’

Most Read