REGIONAL – Since the fall of 2018, Ely native and St. Louis County Public Health Program Coordinator Joshua Gorham and several other individuals, including Ursula Whiteside, national leader for suicide prevention and Hibbing native, have been working to bring awareness to mental health issues faced by people in northern St. Louis County. According to numbers from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Data & Statistics Fatal Injury Report for 2017, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) from 2017, and the St. Louis County Annual Average report from 2011-2017, the suicide rates in three districts across northern St. Louis County are two to three times higher than in the rest of the county, as well as throughout the state of Minnesota.
“That’s a huge problem,” says Gorham. “We need to do something about that.”
Gorham is not alone in this line of thinking. Through his job in public health, he’s come into contact with a number of community members who are also concerned about mental health and substance use on the Iron Range and throughout northern St. Louis County. Many of these concerned citizens wanted to do something to address this issue. Gorham, Whiteside, and the rest of their newly-formed team found a grant opportunity, quickly took action and wrote a grant proposal focused on comprehensive, community-based suicide prevention. Last May, they found out they’d been awarded the grant and have since been working to bring tools and resources into northern communities.
Four year project
The overall goal of this four-year project, known as Thrive Range, is to bring support to Northern St. Louis County for suicide prevention, mental health, and substance use. This consists of three arms: online help, healthcare, and schools.
The first arm of the project, online help, includes a public health website where you will find numerous free resources for managing stress, coping with depression, facing alcohol and drug problems, and dealing with suicidal thoughts. These resources are not only helpful to those who are currently struggling but can also benefit anyone who wants to help a friend or family member. The website currently includes a link to a stress, addiction, and suicide toolbox, as well as links to Thrive and Mahogany, both of which are free online therapy resources, and a link to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website. It also includes three immediate ways to connect for those who are currently in distress, as well as a plethora of other free resources. To learn more, visit www.thriverange.org.
The project’s second arm is called Zero Suicide and revolves around healthcare. With help from multiple rural counties, Thrive Range has created a series of online, on-demand courses that provide a significant amount of Continuing Medical Education credits. These courses cover topics such as crisis planning, micro-interventions for mental health and substance use, and strategies from Dialectical Behavior Therapy. Classes range in length from 1.5 hours to 26 hours and will include over forty hours of training options by June 2020 for anyone who acts as a health care service delivery provider. This free training could potentially save community members working in healthcare $1,000 or more per person and can be found on thriverange.org at the bottom of the page.
The third and final arm of the project involves local school districts. Thrive Range has already begun meeting with the leadership and staff of these local districts to gain a better understanding of what they believe are the strengths and challenges of their students, as well as an understanding of the tools they currently have and the primary obstacles staff believe they face in their role as educators. Ultimately, Thrive Range would like to bring the national program, Hope Squad, to local schools. To learn more about this program, visit www.hopesquad.com. If you work in a school setting and would like to help organize, lend support to, or learn more about bringing the Hope Squad to local schools, please contact Joshua Gorham at GorhamJ@stlouiscountymn.gov.
While it is not one of the arms of the project, another important requirement for its success is a community readiness assessment. Lack of information and a widespread stigma around mental health often prevents community members from becoming more involved. It also keeps people from seeking the help they may need. According to Gorham, this is one of the biggest challenges of the project: bringing awareness to the fact that mental health concerns are not uncommon. When it comes to the Iron Range, the numbers speak for themselves. According to a Bridge to Health survey from 2015, twenty-seven percent of adults in the area had been diagnosed with depression and twenty-two percent had been diagnosed with anxiety. The survey also found that men are three times more likely to kill themselves than women. This data is one of the driving forces behind Thrive Range.
“It’s a topic I’m passionate about,” says Gorham. “There’s so much hope, and so many great tools and resources we can use to help people.”
Gorham encourages people to use the online tools provided by Thrive. He hopes these free resources will help people to overcome the stigma, and sometimes fear, that surrounds seeking help, particularly in rural areas. While they are not a replacement for a doctor, they will hopefully act as a first step toward recovery for many people. And there is nothing wrong with seeking help when you need it.