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State agencies brief lawmakers on suicide prevention efforts

Tuesday, August 13, 2019  
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August 13, Wisconsin Health News

State agencies briefed a legislative task force Monday on what they’re doing to prevent suicide for police officers, military members and those who work in the criminal justice system. 

Dana Vike, certification and training supervisor at the Department of Justice’s Division of Law Enforcement Services, said that they’ve recently updated curriculum used by law enforcement officer training programs to include wellness training and stress management.

The agency is also working on training peer support teams to help officers, she said.

“Law enforcement officers are expected to run toward danger, not run away from it, and mental health concerns have often been seen as a weakness,” she told members of the Speaker's Task Force on Suicide Prevention in Eau Claire. “This needs to change. Officer mental health is an issue of officer safety, just like officer physical health.”

More funding is needed to support officer wellness programs, she said. And they’d also like to put in place privacy protections for officers who seek peer support.

Kami Ward, director of psychological health at the 128th Air Refueling Wing of the Wisconsin Air National Guard, said the Department of Defense has a suicide prevention campaign focusing on safe gun and medication storage. 

“We know that the most effective way to prevent suicide is to put time and space between a distressed person and lethal means,” she said. Someone at risk of suicide is unlikely to substitute a method of suicide that’s been removed with a different method, she added.

The wing is offering free gun locks, and the armory is open for people to lock up their personal weapons if they’re at risk, she said. The unit also has mandatory training on suicide prevention.

Eric Anderson, director of criminal justice and law enforcement at Chippewa Valley Technical College, said they’ve incorporated health and wellness into their degree programs. They’ve also taught students the Question, Persuade and Refer method of suicide prevention.

“QPR is like CPR for all the rest of us,” he said. “It’s a short, intense course to give us the skills we need in a short period of time.”

Oakhill Correctional Institution Deputy Warden Paul Ninnemann said the Department of Corrections has provided QPR training to more than 8,000 staff members.

The Department of Veterans Affairs highlighted the work of the Veterans Outreach and Recovery Program, which helps veterans get mental health treatment.