Be kind. Be curious. Be connected. These six words are the motto of the Zero Suicide Partners of Pinellas initiative – and they have the power to save lives, according to Kristin Mathre of Suncoast Center.
“It’s such a foundational and powerful message,” said Mathre, who serves as the chief operating officer for Suncoast Center, which helps drive and oversee the Zero Suicide initiative. “Those words are the ground base for anyone and every single one of us working in this realm.”
The Suncoast Center has received Foundation funding to support its work to streamline and improve mental health care in Pinellas County by offering a single point of entry. Through this work, Suncoast leaders noticed that Pinellas’ per capita suicide rate was higher than any other like-sized county in Florida.
That discovery gave rise to robust and collaborative initiative to resolve it: the Zero Suicide Partners of Pinellas. With groups focusing on youth, LGBTQIA+, veterans, and suicide concerns more broadly, the program focuses on messaging, institutionalizing suicide/mental health screenings, and helping put practical barriers in place to prevent impulsive acts of suicide and self-harm.
Following the national Zero Suicide framework, the program offers concrete tools like safety plans people can fill out with family and friends, gun locks, and lockable bags for medications.
“If you put barriers in place, it gives people more time to think and back into a more rational state of mind,” said Suncoast President and Chief Executive Officer Barbara Daire. “A time delay might be the difference between life and death.”
They also offer communication-focused tools and strategies to help people talk about suicide – and help prevent it.
“People are terrified of asking someone if they have thoughts of suicide, but we’ve got to ask people. And if someone is thinking of harming themselves, we’ve got to get them connected with services,” Daire added.
While it’s hard to pin down an exact cause for why Pinellas County’s suicide rate might be higher, Daire and Mathre said connectedness is key to helping prevent suicide. They offered some concrete steps everyday people can take in their daily lives to help build community connections and improve safety and mental health.
- Be kind. Being kind to someone else may help them see hope in a moment of darkness. It can be as simple as looking someone in the eye and smiling, asking how they’re doing, holding a door open, acknowledging someone’s presence and their contribution.
- Be curious. Ask people how they are – and mean it. If they’re not doing well, follow up. Asking someone who’s depressed if they’re thinking about hurting themselves demonstrates caring and can help connect them with the services they need.
- Be connected. The connections we make with people can help offer hope. Connections can be formal, through groups, or informal, fueled by casual conversations and random moments. Either way, making ourselves available and open to connecting with others can make a big difference in someone’s mental health and mood. (Zero Suicide partners are working to offer a variety of events where people can build connections with each other in a safe and supportive setting.)