Nearly 40 local business owners and community leaders gathered at St. Mary's Medical Center on Friday to discuss the importance of addressing mental health and suicide in the community.

The hospital's president, Brian Davidson, and behavioral scientist Mike Olson led the event.

Davidson said he was inspired after a conversation with School District 51 Superintendent Steve Schultz. Davidson called to offer support in the wake of recent student suicides, and Schultz asked him how St. Mary's was addressing mental health within the organization.

"We tend to not pay attention to the fact that we do have an organization and we are leaders, and what are we doing for our people? If we all did something and communicated for our people, the likelihood of our suicide epidemic would decline," Davidson said.

Davidson, an anesthesiologist who does not have extensive training in mental or behavioral health, went on to give a presentation to nearly 100 St. Mary's staff members.

After that, he wanted other local leaders to consider stepping up to talk about suicide prevention.

"I think traditionally, wellness and health and specifically topics like suicide are relegated to human resources," Davidson said. "Given the incidents of suicide and mental health issues in this community, I thought it was important to provide leaders in the community with a framework and model the presentation to show them they can do it."

Attendees asked about how to support employees dealing with the suicide of a family member and how to provide resources when there's a local shortage of mental health professionals and facilities.

Olson said it's important to simply start talking to people.

"We don't have to be a content expert or have a license to care about and love people," he said.

St. Mary's is one of several local organizations involved in the effort to build a new mental health facility through Mind Springs Health.

But suicide prevention can't wait for a new facility, Davidson said.

"The end game here is someone is living or dying and even if we don't have services, if someone kills themselves, it's over, and that person, as we build services, will never be able to take advantage of those things," Davidson said. "

A presentation about mental health and suicide awareness, developed by St. Mary's staff for community use, is available at www.stmarygj.org/suicide.

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