MOULTRIE, Ga. — A year ago, the state Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities offered grants in each of its six regions to implement a pilot program for suicide prevention.
In Region 4, which includes Southwest Georgia, the grant went to Hearts for Families, who established its pilot program in Grady County.
After getting its feet on the ground there, the group is now expanding into Colquitt County, according to Dustin Infinger, community involvement specialist for Hearts for Families.
“Word of mouth, I’ve heard of 10 suicides in Colquitt County just this year,” Infinger said Thursday.
Confirming that number is one part of the needs assessment that Infinger is working on now.
The needs assessment includes a survey of the community’s perception of mental health issues. Everyone is invited to fill it out. It’s online at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/WTWCDLL.
Infinger said 150 people have already filled out the survey, but the respondents are primarily white women and the lack of diversity will skew the results.
“We need more men to take the survey. We need more African-Americans to take the survey,” he said, adding that more Latino response is needed too.
The survey is 20 multiple-choice questions, plus a request for feedback. It asks what you think encourages suicide and what you think can discourage it. It will take only a few minutes.
While the survey is going on — until the end of July — Infinger is also interviewing leaders from a variety of different areas of the community to get an understanding of what they know about suicide and what they think can be done to help. Some interviews have already been conducted and others are scheduled, but he specifically still needs representatives of city and county government, law enforcement and the spiritual community. Anyone interested can reach him at (229) 315-8485 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The interviews will be conducted over Zoom with the camera disabled for recording and transcribing, Infinger said.
As the needs assessment wraps up, Infinger will seek out resources that can help meet those needs. He’s already partnering with The Yellow Elephant, a Moultrie-based group focused on opening up discussions about difficult topics, particularly suicide; with the Moultrie chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness; and with the Colquitt County School System. His work in Grady County has connected him with resources at Georgia Pines, which also serves mental health needs here.
With an assessment of needs and available resources, Hearts for Families will begin planning how to bring them together to reduce suicides here. A working group will be assembled, and the plan will be implemented. Infinger said the working group may be in place by the end of the year, but any implementation will probably be early next year.
When the project started in Grady County, Infinger said, it discovered that many people knew someone who had committed suicide, but few people knew much about the subject itself. They just didn’t talk about it. Education and awareness became the emphasis there.
One endeavor was QPR training — teaching people to respond to others who might be considering suicide by Questioning them, Pursuing an answer, and Referring them to a mental health professional if needed.
Over the course of the past year, almost every employee of the Grady County School System has undergone QPR training, Infinger said.
Another avenue the group has been working on is Safe Homes, a program to rid homes of drugs and alcohol and to eliminate or secure the lethal means that a suicidal person might find in their home: For example, using a lockbox for medication or a trigger lock for a firearm. The program also teaches participants some basic tips on mental health, Infinger said.
A third effort in Grady County that he was pleased with was a licensed mental health therapist who set up in a local doctor’s office once a week. That way if a patient went to their physician with a mental health issue, he or she could be escorted to the therapist for an evaluation without anyone in the close-knit community knowing about it.
“All those efforts have definitely increased awareness,” he said. “We’re definitely making progress.”
Some of those projects may be part of Colquitt County’s approach, or not — it was too early for Infinger to speculate, although he did say Hearts for Families might be able to sponsor some QPR classes even before all the assessments are finished.
“This is a ‘now’ problem,” he said, even as he explained that the framework Hearts for Families is working under is designed to take a while. “The nature of the framework is to do your homework, not just go in with guns blazing,” he said.
But in the meantime, Hearts for Families’ partners will continue their own efforts, and Infinger said Hearts for Families would support those projects as best it can.