Community Members Work to Promote Mental Health, prevent suicide


In recent months, several Mille Lacs Band members and employees have been devoting their time and energy to a difficult but important topic: suicide prevention.

The result is the Mille Lacs Band Community Prevention Plan, which provides a road map for the community to address and prevent mental disorders, substance use disorders, and suicide, while promoting mental health. The plan outlines a shared vision, challenges, goals, outcomes, and budget priorities for the implementation of the plan.

Community members and employees involved in the development of the plan were Carol Hernandez, Crystal Weckert, Dawn Chosa, Ginger Weyaus, Joe Charette, Kate Theisz, Kristina Abear, Monica Haglund, Monte Fronk, Nicole Anderson, and Rachel Boyd.

The process began after the Band was given a small grant through the Tribal Training and Technical Assistance Center (TTA) of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) to complete a community readiness assessment for suicide prevention and to implement a plan.

This winter, participants engaged in community readiness training and two site visits from the TTA that helped them learn to assess readiness for change, create a climate for healthy change, and select culturally appropriate, community-specific strategies for prevention.

Two community members were chosen to do interviews to determine the community's readiness, using a scoring method developed by TTA. After the scores were reviewed, the committee was able to determine a good starting point in terms of preparing a plan for the community.

Kate Theisz, a licensed psychologist and clinical supervisor with the Band, said, "Once we knew where things stood, we could start to discuss planning. We looked at barriers in the community as well as resources and where relationships can be strengthened."

One of the exercises that the committee engaged in resulted in "healing trees" and the development of a vision statement: "Based on our community values of Indinawemaaganidog (Family), Anishinaabe Izhitwaawin (Culture), and Manaajitwaawin (Respect) that provide us safety, belonging, identity, connection, mercy, and love; we will strive to increase resiliency and build confident children, heal from trauma, increase cultural pride and knowledge, and welcome people back into the circle."
They also developed four goals:

  • To promote understanding of mental health by increasing knowledge of trauma and its effects.
  • To increase families', individuals', and employees' awareness of mental health and increase knowledge of the prevention efforts.
  • To increase awareness of the signs, symptoms, and causes of suicide and available resources.
  • To strengthen cultural identity to build resiliency and increase protective factors. April 22-24 the team held a three-day "Gathering of Native Americans" to gather community input used to further develop the goals and objectives in the plan.

The committee intends to share information in a variety of ways in the coming weeks to increase awareness in the community. In late July, the team will conduct additional interviews to determine if the readiness score increased.