PAWTUCKET — The Samaritans of Rhode Island is once again working to eliminate the stigma of seeking help, thanks to a new round of suicide prevention awareness training seminars for educators and healthcare professionals dealing with young people.
Samaritans Executive Director Denise Panichas said she has over 50 school administrators, guidance counselors, teachers, and health agency staff members signed up to participate in the professional development workshops being offered each Wednesday of the month at the Samaritans’ Forget Me Not Gallery and Community Education Center at 67 Park Place in Pawtucket.
Sessions run from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. and are offered at no cost to the participants.
Panichas asks that anyone interested should pre-register to attend by calling the Samaritans at 721-5220, and noted the limited available openings will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis.
The course will include a review of the risk factors for suicide and the protective factors such as the resources available to help an at-risk individual through medical and community health organizations, according to Panichas.
The Samaritans consider a suicide to be “a missed opportunity in prevention,” Panichas said. “There may well have been someone who knew something. We take all threats seriously.”
“We work to break the stigma and make it OK to ask for help,” she added.
The advent of the digital age has actually created new opportunities for an at-risk person to get assistance beyond the traditional telephone helpline for which the Samaritans are more commonly known. The Rhode Island organization’s telephone service no longer operates around-the-clock due to cutbacks in funding support needed to train staff but Panichas said the agency now hosts a website whose address is samaritansri.org. It’s available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
As it turns out, people in need, or those worried about someone, are often more likely to visit the website than to make a call to a hotline, according to Panichas.
The teen and youth pages on the website received over 50,000 visits last year and many of those went to the parents’ page in that section, Panichas said.
Use of the website, in fact, has grown every year since it went active in 2004, when it received an initial 6,500 visits, according to Panichas.
The Samaritans’ protocols for offering assistance also take into account that the state’s enhanced 911 system is very good at providing immediate care to an at-risk individual when someone makes the call and can even provide a GPS location for the person if necessary that is accurate to within about 500 yards.
“We say if it is an emergency, call 911 and if you need to talk, call the Samaritans,” Panichas said.
The organization’s helpline is 401-272-4044 or 1-800-365-4044.
The participants in the seminars will be taught to advocate treatment by health care professionals for factors such as depression, emotional stress, or concern over a medical condition.
“The gateway to care is through your primary care doctor or a child’s pediatrician,” Panichas said.
Participants will also be taught how to recognize the signs of a person in distress and what to do in a suicide emergency.
Over the long term, the training sessions should help to expand the support network in Rhode Island available to reduce the tragedy of suicide.
“The more people we get trained will hopefully lessen the missed opportunities that occur,” Panichas said.