Newswise — Palo Alto CA. – A new suicide prevention training program developed by a team from Palo Alto University and the County of Santa Clara Behavioral Health Services Department aims to better prevent suicide by being more culturally aware of the populations it serves.  

“Be Sensitive, Be Brave” includes a set of workshops offered by a team of community trainers. Teams are led by Palo Alto University professor and clinical psychologist Joyce Chu and Mego Lien, a public health professional who manages the Suicide Prevention Program for the Behavioral Health Services Department.  Three years ago, the two teams partnered to review the “cultural competency” of the Santa Clara County’s existing suicide prevention training program and identified opportunities for improvement. 

“Cultural competency refers to being continuously attuned and responsive to a groups’ beliefs, practices, and cultural and linguistic needs and preferences,” says Chu, whose research efforts focus on suicide, ethnic minority populations, and diversity.  “One of the first steps in determining cultural competency is to research and understand the cultural context of the community you are targeting,” added Chu.

The teams developed and piloted the “Be Sensitive, Be Brave” suicide prevention workshop, which teaches community members to act as the eyes and ears for suicidal distress and to help connect individuals with appropriate services.  While participants learn to recognize suicide risk and how to ask individuals if they are thinking about suicide, the workshop also prepares participants to navigate conversations about suicide across diverse populations and to be culturally responsive within their communities.  The training program can be adapted for any culture or ethnicity. 

The team piloted and refined the training workshop for a full year, through 15 training sessions that reached 20-30 people at each session.   

Santa Clara County’s Nepalese community were among  the groups that piloted the “Be Sensitive, Be Brave” workshops. The community was experiencing a high incidence of suicide among its youth. “We were so grateful to be part of this program,” said Pratik Pande, a Nepalese community member who sought help from the County of Santa Clara Behavioral Health Services Department. “The training helped our community identify why this was happening, how to prevent future suicides, and helped us cope with our grief and anxiety. We did not know about the resources that Santa Clara County had to offer until now. It was a great experience working with them directly, especially Mego Lien. This made us feel that someone cared about our specific needs and well-being,” said Pande.     

The County’s Behavioral Health Services Department has recruited its first cohort of trainers from a pool of clinical psychology doctoral students at Palo Alto University. 

“One of our goals is to create an evidence-based, culturally competent, and sustainable suicide prevention training program for the Santa Clara County community,” said Mego Lien, Suicide Prevention Program Manager. “You do not need a special degree or license to be able to identify and support someone who is thinking about suicide. By continually providing training for community members and trainers, like in our ‘Be Sensitive, Be Brave’ series, we can increase the number of people equipped to identify individuals at risk, intervene, and help to prevent suicide death.”

The training program is funded by the California Mental Health Services Act/ Proposition 63 and is available to individuals or organizations free-of-charge. Trainings are scheduled to take place via ZOOM, and one of the first are with Gavilan College in Gilroy, and allcove, a program of Stanford University’s Center for Youth Mental Health and Wellbeing.

For more information about the program or to request a training, interested individuals or organizations can contact Evelyn Quintanilla at the County of Santa Clara Behavioral Health Services Department:  evelyn.quintanilla@hhs.sccgov.org