An increase in suicide deaths is an unfortunate reality following natural disasters such as Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Mental health professionals say the risk for suicides begins to increase six to nine months following the disaster. In order to better understand the potential for increased suicides, as well as implement strategies to prevent suicides, a Suicide Prevention Summit is scheduled for this week.

Louisiana Spirit, the federally-funded crisis counseling program within the Department of Health and Hospitals, is bringing together mental health experts from throughout the state and nation for the summit.

It will be held Thursday, April 6 in Baton Rouge. The event is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Claiborne Building, 1201 N. 3rd Street, in the Louisiana Purchase Room on the first floor.

According to Dr. Anthony Speier, disaster mental health director for the DHH’s Office of Mental Health, there have been several anecdotal reports and news stories about suicides since the storms.

“The level of destruction is unlike anything we’ve ever witnessed before. Not only did people lose their homes and possessions, they lost their jobs and were separated from their family members. The enormity of the catastrophe and the knowledge that the long-term recovery process will be long has led to an overwhelming feeling of helplessness and hopelessness,” he said.

“Feelings of desperation can ultimately lead to thoughts of suicide. It is for this reason that we are bringing together key stakeholders to address what may turn into a severe problem,” he added.

The Suicide Summit will address these key areas:

    • Understand the need to address/prevent suicides
    • Identify people who are at risk
    • Provide information about successful suicide prevention “gatekeeping” programs

The Summit is a joint effort of the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, Baton Rouge Crisis Intervention Center, VIA-LINK in New Orleans and the LDH Office of Mental Health’s Louisiana Spirit hurricane recovery program.

WHAT:    Suicide Prevention Summit
WHERE:  Baton Rouge, Claiborne Building,
              1201 N. 3rd Street, Louisiana Purchase Room, 1st floor.
WHEN:   Thursday, April 6, 2006, 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.