BLOOMINGTON — Before she became McLean County coroner last year, Kathy Davis was aware people died too often from suicide, but now it's her goal to try stopping it.
As a nurse practitioner, Davis saw the devastation families endure when a loved one takes his or her own life.
Her work in the emergency room of Advocate BroMenn Regional Medical Center, combined with research she shared with students as a nursing instructor, is the foundation for Davis’ initiative to lower the number of suicides in McLean County.
“Our goal is to save lives. We want to strengthen the idea that prevention is possible,” said Davis.
Working as part of a team, the coroner can play an important role in addressing the 15 suicides reported so far in 2015 in the county, said Davis. The effort starts with data collection and engaging local health care providers in a discussion about those numbers.
“We want to see how we can translate the data into a dialogue and a prevention effort,” said Davis, who has talked with the Community Crisis Planning Group about the development of a prevention plan.
The group of mental health and health care providers began meeting last year as part of the effort to improve community mental health services, including a better response to people in crisis.
"Suicide prevention is at the core of what we do," said Laura Beavers, coordinator of behavioral health service for the McLean County Health Department and a member of the planning group.
"The coroner's perspective and educational background has been very helpful," said Beavers.
The expansion of that dialogue beyond professionals is a key element of a prevention plan, said Davis. The long-held belief that suicide is a topic too sensitive to share with others must change.
“We want people to get involved and talk to others about suicide, ask what they can do,” she said.
Davis said the data compiled by her office is a starting point, but work done at the state level also should be part of the local initiative.
Recently, Davis joined the Illinois Suicide Prevention Alliance, a group of stakeholders from the public and private sectors working to develop the Illinois Suicide Strategic Plan.
She is the only coroner in the state serving with the alliance.
A partnership that includes law enforcement, schools and health care providers is necessary to build an effective prevention program, said Melaney Arnold, spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Public Health, organizer of the state alliance.
“Suicide is a complex issue with multiple, interrelated causes rooted in both the individual and the environment,” said Arnold.
While much is known about suicide, there is still much to learn, added Davis.
"One thing we know about suicide is that it can happen to anyone. The issue crosses all socio-economic lines. As a community, I believe we can pull all our resources together and get some answers that will help prevent more deaths," she said.