Suicide Prevention Forum Draws 170

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

On May 10, the auditorium at the Montgomery County Public Safety Training Campus was the setting for a day-long conference on suicide prevention for emergency responders.

In attendance were police officers from most departments in the county along with officers from Chester, Delaware, Philadelphia, and other counties. EMTs, fire fighters, probation officers, sheriffs and others concerned about suicide risk in the public safety professions also joined.

The forum was an outcome of an effort begun in late 2014 after the suicide of a police officer in Lower Providence Township and another in Radnor Township. MCES convened an ad hoc work group that included representatives from law enforcement, EMS, the fire service, and suicide prevention to look at the problem. It was determined that while most emergency responders had frequent contact with suicidal persons, many did not know about suicidality in their ranks.

MCES was tasked with developing suicide prevention information materials specifically for police officers, EMTs, paramedics, and fire fighters. With input from members of the work group, MCES issued "What First Responders Need to Know about Suicide." Supplies of the brochure were distributed to every police department in the county and copies were made available to police cadets and EMT trainees. Copies are also provided to all MCES Crisis Intervention Specialist trainees.

The work group plans to move beyond raising awareness about emergency responder suicide risk through educational materials and training and decided this could best be facilitated by bringing together representatives of the regional emergency responder community. The Forum was the result.

The Forum was planned by staff from MCES, the Montgomery County Department of Public Safety (DPS), the Sprout Health Group and the PA Adult and Older Adult Suicide Prevention Coalition. DPS gave significant logistical and promotional support to the effort as well as EMS CE credits. The AOASPC underwrote the cost of bringing in the key note speaker and the Sprout Health Group took care of lunch. Thanks to these organizations there was no charge to attend. The presenters and topics were:

John Becker: Former Detective, drug and alcohol treatment specialist with Sprout Health Group specializing in working with emergency responders, spoke on the role that substance abuse and co-occurring disorders play in raising suicide risk.
Govan Martin: Retired PA State Trooper who ran PSP Member Assistance Program, co-chair of PA Adult and Older, addressed the risk factors for suicide in emergency responders and the significant stressors that all share in common.
Janice McCarthy: Widow of a Massachusetts State Trooper who took his life after suffering with PTSD for many years. Founded "Care of Police Suicide Survivors (COPSS)", a nonprofit that supports family members of law enforcement personnel lost to suicide, presented her family's experiences before and after her husband's death.
Michelle Monzo: Crisis Intervention Educator with Montgomery County Emergency Service, who trains police, correctional, probation officers, and other law enforcement personnel in dealing with behavioral health emergencies, joined the speakers in a panel discussion of follow-up actions.
David Rogers: Clinical Director of Hershey Psychological Services and President of the Pennsylvania Psychological Association, co-presented with Govan Martin and gave advice on identifying and dealing with job-related stressors.

Tony Salvatore of MCES moderated the event.

The Montgomery County Suicide Prevention Task Force and the Coatesville VAMC Suicide Prevention Program joined MCES and the Sprout Health Group in having information tables with suicide prevention materials.

The Forum closed with recommendations that further education on suicide prevention be made available to emergency responders, especially EMS and the fire service. Separate peer-led crisis lines will be established for police officers, EMTs and firefighters staffed by volunteers that assist callers in getting help as indicated. Clinical resources will be identified for emergency responders affected by PTSD, depression, other behavioral health concerns, and suicidal ideation. Other recommendations were that every emergency service organization have a suicide prevention policy and a protocol for responding to a suicide loss.