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Dr. Kevin Ellers from the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation presents strategies and ways to prevent suicides from happening, how to identify the signs and much more at a town meeting at the Camanche Fire Station on Saturday. The city has had several suicides throughout the years and recently met with state legislators to discuss programs for the community like this.

Natalie Conrad/Clinton Herald
Herald Staff Writer

The intentional self-harm rate for Clinton County is 12.8, well above 3.7, the rate for the state of Iowa.

This hits close to home for citizens of Camanche, since the city has had multiple suicides throughout the years.

City officials and concerned residents attended a Suicide Prevention, Intervention and Postvention Strategies meeting on Saturday at the Camanche Fire Station. Dr. Kevin Ellers from the International Critical Incident Stress Foundation presented strategies and ways to prevent suicides from happening, how to identify the signs and much more.

After a recent suicide in Camanche, Councilman Gary Kampe approached First Baptist Church Pastor Paul Willis to ask what the community could do. A suicide prevention committee was formed with the help of Camanche Superintendent Tom Parker, City Administrator Tom Roth, Mayor Ken Fahlbeck, Councilman Paul Varner, Fire Chief Dave Schutte and Police Chief Bob Houzenga and several other city officials.

“We wanted an openness in the community,” Willis said. “We don’t want to hide anything.”

There were multiple suicides in Camanche in the early 2000s, many of whom were youths, according to Roth. At the Mayor’s Summit in Washington, D.C., in March, Fahlbeck and Roth met with state legislators to discuss federal programs for suicide prevention.

“We’ve had trouble for 10 years or more with suicide in general, not just youth,” Fahlbeck said.

The committee decided it was time to give the community a chance to learn about how to prevent and deal with these issues, so they looked into having a speaker come in.

“Pastor Paul gave me a call and said we have some hurting people,” Ellers said. “ In reality, everyone is an expert in their own grief, but it can be hard to understand the grief and problems of others.”

Ellers demonstrated the prevalence of suicide, especially with youth with factual information. There is one suicide every 15.2 minutes in the U.S. and it is also the 11th ranking cause of death in the U.S. It is the third leading cause of death among people ages 15 to 24.

Many of the things that are commonly thought of as ways to help, do the exact opposite. Being overly positive and telling them things will get better can often do more harm than good. Sometimes even saying you understand what they’re going through can result negatively.

“We say we understand how they feel, but everyone’s pain is different,” Ellers said.

While, the church may seem like the right place to go in this situation, it could also be detrimental. Spiritualizing everything or preaching can often push them away.

“Churches can be helpful, but they can also be harmful,” Ellers said.

Ellers also discussed the stigma of discussing suicide and how it is an uncomfortable topic for many. The community has made a step in the right direction by discussing the issue openly, according to Ellers. He recalled a family member who had committed suicide, but he wasn’t even aware of it, because the family never discussed it.

“A lot of people don’t talk about it, because they don’t want to admit to having mental illness in their family,” Willis said.

The goals of the program were to educate the community about suicide, to encourage them to look within and around themselves to discover resources in the community, and to recognize what is needed to take the next steps.

City officials and residents discussed offering grief and suicide prevention support groups to give individuals a comfortable place to interact with others going through the same problems.

“It’s great for a small community like this to have resources,” Ellers said. “It’s important to have people like you who are willing to make steps to improve things as a community.”

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