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Turning Grief Into Action During Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

September 03, 2021

By Kate Carey-Trull and Robin Stanley Numbers might tell a story but when it comes to suicide, even one is too many, according to speakers at an event in Hartford Wednesday to mark Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Hartford HealthCare colleagues joined with state agencies to raise awareness about suicide and highlight the myriad of services, including mental health counseling, available for people contemplating suicide. Marisa Giarnella-Porco, president and co-founder of the Jordan Porco Foundation, shared the story of losing her son, a college freshman, to suicide, and how she has turned grief into action. “He was the last person we expected to lose this way, but after that experience we found out that 1 in 5 people suffer from a form of mental illness. This has a ripple effect on the lives of friends and families,” she said. The Jordan Porco Foundation, she continued, hosts events and engages students in conversations that can help prevent a mental crisis and reduce the stigma around discussing mental health. “We seek to create a message of hope,” she said. “We remind students that we all have mental health needs.” The foundation has created a program, Fresh Check Day, held on college campuses throughout New England, which creates an approachable atmosphere, offering music, free food and information about services and resources concerning mental health, she said. Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz outlined the grave statistics of suicide in Connecticut, ranking as the 11th leading cause of death in the state. Last year, on average, one person died by suicide every 21 hours in Connecticut. “No matter your age, your background, your gender, one suicide is one too many,” she said. Connecticut has a comprehensive patient care plan, with grants that have made resources available to those seeking care. The Hartford HealthCare Behavioral Health Network team works with state agencies to provide care and counseling. Hartford HealthCare is proud to be a member of the Zero Suicide initiative. Zero Suicide is a philosophy of care and a set of tools to achieve transformational change in healthcare systems, to make hospitals safer and more compassionate for people at risk. [caption id="attachment_35675" align="alignright" width="350"] Dr. Jennifer Ferrand, Director of Well-Being, Hartford HealthCare speaks at a press conference for National Suicide Prevention & Awareness Month.[/caption] Jennifer Ferrand, PsyD, director of well-being for Hartford HealthCare, said that the initiative has been implemented through evidence-based elements as interventions focused on reducing suicide, data to measure the outcomes of the interventions, continual quality improvement to educate staff and normalizing suicide prevention and care practices for staff, people at risk and their families as the expected standard of care. “The evidence based interventions can be really simple,” said Dr. Ferrand. “For instance, in Hartford HealthCare when someone transitions out of care in one of our behavioral health facilities we call them to see how they’re doing. We ask them if they have filled their prescriptions, if they’ve scheduled any follow-up appointments that we’ve recommended, and if they’re doing OK.” This follow up allows staff to intervene if needed and engage the patient’s support system. “This simple action saves lives and helps us to partner with others in our communities, extending our relationship with patients and showing that we care beyond the treatment we provide in our physical settings,” Dr. Ferrand said. Speakers acknowledged the added mental health challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Lt. Gov. Bysiewicz said the pandemic has been challenging in so many ways, with people facing challenges with hunger, housing, employment and more. Providing support and counseling is one way to help prevent suicide, and many agencies work together to provide different services. Commissioner Vanessa Dorantes, of the Department of Children & Families, said the United Way’s 211 program is a one-stop shop that can connect people to a host of resources across the state. “Thank you for raising awareness and highlighting the importance of taking care of each other and the children in our society,” she said. “The pandemic has created stressors like we have never seen. We are excited to start the school year, but we know our children have faced social isolation.” “We need to reset, recalibrate and refuel our efforts, and continue to destigmatize the need to get help,” Dorantes said. On Sept. 10, World Suicide Prevention Day, the Institute of Living will host its annual awareness event, this year as a virtual presentation from 8:30 a.m. to noon. J. Corey Feist, JD, MBA, CEO of the University of Virginia Physicians Group and co-founder of the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes’ Foundation, will present “From Awareness to Action: The Mission of the Dr. Lorna Breen Heroes' Foundation to Safeguard the Well-Being of our Healthcare Professionals.” The event, which is open to the public, will address the issues contributing to the increased risk of suicide and burnout of healthcare workers ahead of National Physician Suicide Awareness Day on Sept. 17, including the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and discuss various actions that support the well-being of healthcare professionals. A live Q&A session with a panel of experts will follow the presentation.

If you or someone you know needs someone to reach out to dial 1-800-273-8255,  The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255), or 911 immediately.