Dr. Batra speaks at the Vermont Suicide Prevention Symposium.

The Vermont Zero Suicide Initiative

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Thursday August 06, 2015

Zero suicides in Vermont can be a reality. This was the message delivered by Dr. Jaskanwar Batra, Medical Director of the Vermont Department of Mental Health, at the third annual Vermont Suicide Prevention Symposium held this summer in Fairlee, Vermont. This annual cross-agency statewide event brought together local and national experts to present the latest research and initiatives in suicide prevention. Presenters discussed a range of topics including access to lethal means, language sensitivity in the LGBTQ community, working with those who have lost loved ones to suicide, at-risk groups, and local team-based efforts.

Zero Suicide is a concept developed by a coalition of leading national suicide prevention groups, who describe it as both a bold goal and an aspirational challenge, a concept as well as a practice. “The goal is to ensure that suicide is prevented in every individual in the care of health systems,” said Dr. JoEllen Tarallo-Falk, Director of the VT Suicide Prevention Center.

Dr. Batra of South Burlington presented data showing a dramatic decline in suicides where the program or similar programs have been employed. “The key to the initiative is that many parties need to be involved, from community health teams to school clinical staff, crisis and help lines, outpatient services, and so on.”However, said Batra, “The point is that this is doable. The Vermont Department of Mental Health has made a commitment to implement Zero Suicide throughout Vermont.”

Other presentations included: Supporting Queer Youth; Midlife Woes and Weapons: A Lethal Combination; Late Life Suicide: Prevention and Intervention; Caring Contacts for Suicide Prevention, and The Cutting Edge: Understanding and Addressing Non-suicidal Self-injury in College Students.

Featured speakers included Dr. David Luxton, research scientist at the University of Washington School of Medicine, Dr. Janice Whitlock from Cornell University’s Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research, and clinical psychologist Dr. John Jordan, as well as leading Vermont researchers and authorities such as Susan Wehry, M.D., Commissioner of the Vermont Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living.

“This was our third annual conference, and each year it grows both in numbers and in strength. It’s a day of intense learning and sharing,” said Tarallo-Falk. “Across many sectors, there is an incredible amount of brainpower that has come together over this issue. There is ingenuity, care and concern from everyone from researchers to community groups to youth. Together, we’re learning and we’re making a difference.”

For more information about the Vermont Suicide Prevention Center, please visit www.vtspc.org.