UCF Professor to Lead Expansion of Suicide-Prevention Programs

UCF Professor to Lead Expansion of Suicide-Prevention Programs

Kim Gryglewicz (right) with lead trainer Melissa Wittmeier (Photo by Abi Bell)

UCF assistant professor of social work Kim Gryglewicz is the program director for a $3.68 million expansion of suicide-prevention services for children, teenagers and young adults in Florida.

The new Florida Linking Individuals Needing Care project is made possible by a five-year grant from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Gryglewicz is collaborating with the Statewide Office of Suicide Prevention, Florida Council for Community Mental Health and University of South Florida.

Central, northeast and southeast Florida will benefit directly from the project as the Florida Council for Community Mental Health distributes 85 percent of the funds to these regions to implement suicide prevention programs.

“Our goal is to save lives,” said Gryglewicz, a co-principal investigator for the grant who implemented other SAMHSA-funded suicide-prevention programs as a postdoctoral fellow and graduate student at USF. “We want to be sure that youth and families are getting the services they need.”

Suicide is now the second-leading cause of death among people ages 10 to 24, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Florida alone, 765 people ages 10 to 24 died from suicide from 2011-2013 reported the Florida Department of Health.

“Kids today are being exposed to more things, such as cyberbullying, than in my generation,” Gryglewicz said. “They’re also growing up at a quicker rate. It’s not just teenagers who are feeling depressed, helpless and hopeless. We’re seeing kids as young as 6 or 7 who feel this way.”

Florida LINC will focus on the needs of people ages 10 to 24 who have an increased risk for depression and suicidal thoughts, as well as their families, she said.

The project will target young adults not in school; youth involved with juvenile justice and foster care; military families; survivors of suicide attempts and loss; LGBTQ youth; Latino and Native Indian youth; and youth seen in substance abuse treatment, mental health, primary care, emergency department and inpatient psychiatric settings, according to Gryglewicz.

“The project is comprehensive and will require us to work across multiple systems,” she said.

Laurie Blades, a spokesperson for the Statewide Office of Suicide Prevention in Tallahassee and a UCF alumna, said improving collaboration and care coordination among local groups that serve at-risk youth is among the state’s most pressing needs.

Care coordination is crucial when an individual has several needs, such as mental health care, substance abuse treatment and social services.

John Bryant, vice president for the Florida Council for Community Mental Health, a Tallahassee-based nonprofit that coordinates suicide-prevention efforts statewide, also thinks it’s critical to have an “educated and engaged populace.”

The project will educate mental health professionals, families, teachers, clergy and peers on how to provide support, reassurance and an avenue to treatment if needed, he said. And it will expand the network of well-informed professionals who can effectively intervene and prevent loss of life.

To reach these groups, Gryglewicz will work with Managing Entities, organizations in Florida that manage the delivery of behavioral health in a specified region. Three of Florida’s eight Managing Entities will participate: Lutheran Services Florida, serving 23 counties in Northeast Florida; Southeast Florida Behavioral Health, serving five counties; and Central Florida Cares Health System, serving Brevard, Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties.

Gryglewicz will select and supervise suicide-prevention specialists who will prepare professionals in these regions to implement prevention and early intervention programs. She also will monitor these activities to ensure expectations are met. In addition, she will evaluate the programs’ effectiveness in collaboration with USF associate professor Marc Karver with 15 percent of the funds.

In many parts of Florida, basic suicide-prevention training programs are available to teach “gatekeepers” — individuals such as parents and teachers who have direct contact with children, teenagers and young adults — about risk factors and warning signs.

Florida LINC will expand these programs and add new ones. The innovative new programs include trainings focused on families, care coordination and postvention [post-suicide procedures], said Karver, a project leader who will contribute expertise in program evaluation. “SAMHSA is very excited about our project,” he said.

Gryglewicz said she looks forward to building on existing programs and strengthening care coordination overall. “If a youth or young adult has been identified as being at-risk for suicide and is referred for care, we need to be sure the person is receiving care,” Gryglewicz said. “No child should ever fall through the cracks.”