North Dakota woman recognized for suicide prevention efforts

The suicide death rates are rising in North Dakota more than in any other state – but one woman is developing programs to combat what she’s calling an epidemic.

North Dakota Suicide Prevention Program Director, Alison Traynor, was recognized by the de Beaumont Foundation as one of their first 40 Under 40 in Public Health honorees for her work in building a statewide coalition that has proven to reduce suicide death rates.

Traynor says suicide is the leading cause of death in the state among young people aged 34 and under, with working-age males making up the biggest proportion. She said “every week I hear from people who have struggled with thoughts of suicide or have attempted, gotten help, and gotten better. And they want people to know there is help, there is hope."

That hope is coming from the North Dakota Suicide Prevention Coalition, a group of 180 suicide survivors, volunteers, and stakeholders – including decision-makers and administrators – who meet to guide a state plan that’s drafted in conjunction with Traynor’s office.

With a sense of isolation one of the biggest risk factors, a main focus is increasing people's sense of purpose and connectedness and providing coping skills, but Traynor says "No one person is enough to keep someone safe. No one person, event, or thing causes suicide alone. It's only when we all work together. We use best practices, we communicate risk, and we invest in prevention that we'll see this change."

So, they’ve developed two evidence-based initiatives to reach their goals: Zero Suicide which has shown to reduce suicide deaths up to 80%, as well as Source of Strength which has been implemented in 58 schools across the state. The latter is an effort to help kids build resiliency, learn coping skills, and build relationships with caring adults in schools that starts with peer-to-peer interaction.

"They can identify the kids in their school that are struggling and connect them to caring adults, but they also can spread these messages of hope, help, and strength -- through social media, through their own stories, and they can really highlight the strengths or the protective factors that they've used in their own life to get through difficult times," said Traynor, adding that this approach not only helps with suicide prevention, but also with substance use disorder and bullying issues.

But Traynor is always looking for ways to expand these efforts, saying "We need to make services more accessible, we need to address the behavioral health workforce shortage, we need to increase access to community-based services. And that's work that no one person can do alone."

If you’re interested in helping or incorporating any of these programs, you can find more Evidence-Based Prevention Resources at http://www.ndhealth.gov/suicideprevention/?id=12.