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BRATTLEBORO >> Zero suicides in Vermont can be a reality. This was the message delivered by Dr. Jaskanwar Batra, Medical Director of the Vermont Department of Mental Health at the third annual Vermont Suicide Prevention Symposium on June 24 at Lake Morey Resort in Fairlee.

This annual cross-agency statewide event brought together local and national experts to present the latest research and initiatives in suicide prevention. Presenters discussed a range of topics including access to lethal means, language sensitivity in the LGBTQ community, working with those who've lost loved ones to suicide, at-risk groups, and local team-based efforts.

Zero Suicide is a concept developed by a coalition of leading national suicide prevention groups, who describe it as both a bold goal and an aspirational challenge, a concept as well as a practice. The goal is to ensure that suicide is prevented in every individual in the care of health systems.

Batra presented data showing a dramatic decline in suicides where the program or similar programs have been employed.

"The key to the initiative is that many parties need to be involved, from community health teams to school clinical staff, crisis and help lines, outpatient services, and so on," she said. "The point is that this is doable. The Vermont Department of Mental Health has made a commitment to implement Zero Suicide throughout Vermont."

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Other presentations were: Supporting Queer Youth; Midlife Woes and Weapons: A Lethal Combination; Late Life Suicide: Prevention and Intervention; Caring Contacts for Suicide Prevention; The Cutting Edge: Understanding and Addressing Non-suicidal Self-injury in College Students; and several more.

Featured speakers included Dr. David Luxton, research scientist at the University of Washington School of Medicine; Dr. Janice Whitlock from Cornell University's Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Researchl; and clinical psychologist Dr. John Jordan, as well as leading Vermont researchers and authorities such as Susan Wehry, M.D., Commissioner of the Vermont Department of Disabilities, Aging

This was our third annual conference, and each year it grows both in numbers and in strength. It's a day of intense learning and sharing. Across many sectors, there is an incredible amount of brainpower that has come together over this issue. There is ingenuity, care and concern from everyone from researchers to communities groups to youth. Together, we're learning and we're making a difference.

The Vermont Suicide Prevention Center's mission is to create health-promoting communities in which schools, institutions of higher education, public and private agencies, and people of all ages have the knowledge, attitudes, skills, and resources to reduce the risk for suicide. The VTSPC is a program of the Center for Health and Learning and a partnership with the Vermont Department of Mental Health and is advised by a statewide Coalition of more than 35 agencies and individuals. VTSPC supports statewide suicide prevention efforts and local communities in implementing the recommendations of the Vermont Suicide Prevention Platform using data driven evidence based practices. For more information, please visit www.vtspc.org.

Dr. JoEllen Tarallo-Falk is the director of the Vermont Suicide Prevention Center in Brattleboro. For more information, visit www.healthandlearning.org.