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USVI Implements Suicide Prevention Program in Partnership with CSTE and CDC

Posted By Irving Julien, USVI Suicide Prevention Program Coordinator, Thursday, October 8, 2020
Updated: Tuesday, October 6, 2020

Sharifa Charles, Professional Development Specialist at MHA’s Center for Behavioral Health, leads participants during a gatekeeper training in St. Thomas, November 2019.


In Fall 2019, the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Health (VIDOH) developed the USVI Suicide Prevention Program under the leadership of Commissioner Justa Encarnacion and in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE). Irving Julien was hired to serve in the role of Suicide Prevention Program Coordinator. Once fully developed, the program included two in-person gatekeeper trainings in November 2019, outreach activities throughout the winter and spring, and two virtual Suicide Prevention “Train the Trainer” sessions in June 2020.   

VIDOH was pleased to have Sharifa J. Charles, a Native Virgin Islander, and Professional Development Specialist currently with the Center for School Behavioral Health, Mental Health America of Greater Houston as the trainer for the four training sessions. Initially, the Train the Trainer sessions were planned to take place in person. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the curriculum was adapted to a virtual format. This was the first time that a training of this magnitude was conducted virtually in the territory. A total of 85 individuals were trained with each training session lasting four hours. Attendees participated in pre- and post-training test assessments and received certification of completion after the training. Ninety-seven percent of participants responding to the post-test agreed or strongly agreed that the training content would help them be more effective in their jobs. 

 

Attendees participate in a gatekeeper training in St. Thomas, November 2019 


First responders who participated in the November sessions were trained on tactical skills to be used to train others at their respective government agencies, as well as members of the community. Educational trainings focused on recognizing the warning signs of a suicide crisis, the steps necessary to help intervene and prevent suicide, and techniques to help the healing process after a suicide. Attendees learned from mental health professionals, crisis workers, volunteers, and suicide survivors using a culturally sensitive approach when speaking about suicide, suicide assessments, intervention techniques, and prevention practices. 

 

The diagram in this slide illustrates the phases of community response and outcomes to disaster events, such as Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017 


The latest epidemiological data from CDC and VIDOH shows an increase in suicides in the territory and the nation, especially considering the COVID-19 pandemic. Vernita Bicette, Director of Behavioral Health Alcoholism and Drug Dependency Services at the Department of Health stated, “We are taking a proactive approach in the territory to this national crisis by implementing preventative measures, which include this suicide prevention training.” VIDOH and community partners are dedicated to building program sustainability.  

The territory will continue outreach efforts focused on promoting mental health and decreasing the number of suicide attempts and deaths. The most recent of these efforts is the launch of a radio commercial targeting young adults who may be experiencing suicidal thoughts.


Irving Julien was the 2019-2020 USVI Suicide Prevention Program Coordinator. The Virgin Islands Department of Health (VIDOH) is pleased to continue its suicide prevention initiatives with future educational trainings and outreach activities. For more information, please contact the VIDOH Suicide Prevention Program at 340-718-1311. 

 

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