In the past three years combined, St. Tammany Parish has had 13 homicides. During that same period of time, more than 100 residents committed suicide. Rebecca Thees with Volunteers of America has been on the front line of the parish’s efforts to curb this growing crisis.
“In 2011, Volunteers of America was contacted by St. Tammany Parish government to create a program that would address the rising number of suicides and mental health crises in the parish,” she says. “As a result, we created the crisis response program.”
Volunteers of America formed a partnership with St. Tammany law enforcement to dispatch licensed counselors to suicide-attempt calls.
“When 911 is called, because of a behavioral health crisis, deputies on the scene make the determination whether we should be called. They can call us for an assessment; they can call us for advice. Typically, we will response to wherever the officer needs us to go. We have a wonderful relationship with the deputies who we work with. I have a great amount of respect for all of them. They are kind and compassionate to all of our clients and it’s been a great working relationship.”
Torey Lamothe is a Northshore mother who’s lived every parent’s worst nightmare: her daughter attempted to commit suicide. It was in the latter part of 2012.
“I had to idea that it was going on,” says Lamothe.
Officers came to her door one evening and knocked mentioned her daughter’s name.
“And then they said: ‘Can we come in?’ And then they came in and they said ‘Where is she,’ and I directed them to her room. And when they opened the door she was all cut up — you know, slashes on her wrists and bleeding. And I was just in total shock.”
“From that point, they took her to the hospital, St. Tammany Parish Hospital. She had to be interviewed by the nurses and the doctors, and also by Volunteers of America, and they were there to support me,” says Lamothe.
Lamothe remembers well her encounter with Volunteers of America while at the hospital.
“Well, it was very comforting and supportive, because you’re kind of like, confused, about everything, and then also fearful that, what if she died, and all these thoughts are going through your head. The encounter was calming and ‘this is what you’re going to do.’ It’s sort of like Volunteers of America took over the thinking for me. The only decision I had to make was, do I want further help — aftercare.”
Aftercare is the follow up counseling Volunteers of America provides once the initial crisis is averted.
The second component is the aftercare or case management piece. It is the opportunity for counselors to meet with the family to create a family stabilization plan, if needed; to provide long-term care and assistance; support and encouragement. Sometimes it is just education about mental health issues that a family may have.
Tori shudders at the thought of what could have happened if her family didn’t have the support of Volunteers of America.
“I feel that she would have, eventually, successfully attempted suicide,” she says.
Rebecca has a very simple philosophy when reflecting on what her organization has accomplished.
“I think it’s important that we come together as a community, and I think it’s important that we take the skills and gifts that we’ve been given and give back. I think that we have absolutely saved lives in this parish… absolutely," she says.
Northshore Focus is made possible with the support of the Northshore Community Foundation.