Gatekeepers Program Aims to Address and Prevent Suicide in Sheridan

Gatekeepers Program Aims to Address and Prevent Suicide in Sheridan
Gatekeepers Program Aims to Address and Prevent Suicide in Sheridan

In 2010, Wyoming had the highest suicide rate of any state, according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control. And Wyoming has ranked in the top five states for suicide for years. In our two-part series on the topic, Sheridan Media's Chris Foy examines what could be causing this - and what community organizations are doing to help prevent suicide and start the conversation.

The topic of death is a tough one to address. Discussing suicide is even harder. But some community organizations, like the Sheridan County Suicide Prevention Coalition - under the umbrella of the Prevention Management Organization of Wyoming - say they're trying to not only start the conversation on the local level but train citizens to notice the often hard to notice signs of someone on the edge and teach them how to get those people professional help.

Vanessa Hastings is a community prevention specialist for the Sheridan County Suicide Prevention Coalition.

Recognizing the signs of someone at the edge of that gate between life and death, those secretly drowning in the waters of emotional or physical pain, crippling depression or mental illness is difficult.

Hastings says depression is a risk factor for suicide - but not all of those with the sometimes immobilizing disease actually commit suicide. She says it's family members, loved ones, friends and coworkers who are best able to recognize the red flags of someone in trouble.

In the Operation SAVE Gatekeeper Program, she says trainees learn what those red flags are, and what to do to help.

Hastings says sometimes just checking in with someone you know who might me fighting an internal battle can make all the difference.

She says increasing the use of alcohol or drugs, or starting to use them, can be a contributing factor as well. Having access to a firearm can increase the risk as well, and without discussing gun control - we hear enough about that right now - Hastings says if you know someone who is in that crisis state and has access to a weapon, just asking to safeguard it can help that person think twice. These are all things that Gatekeepers will learn.

But historically, Hastings says, the number of trainees in the Operation SAVE Gatekeepers Program has been low. She explains how she says she hopes more people will take on the responsibility of preventing suicide in our communities.

Hastings says Hollis Hackman, a psychologist at the Sheridan VA Medical Center, will be teaching an Abnormal Psychology class at Sheridan College. And she says that's a great way to take on that responsibility.

Stay tuned for part two of this series as we examine the national discussion of mass violence incidents that often end in suicide - and how talking about mental health could help.

If you're interested in joining the Gatekeepers program, you can call Vanessa Hastings for more information at 763-3055 or send her an email at

And if you're in crisis, please call the Suicide Lifeline at 800-273-8255. There are trained people available 24 hours a day.

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