By Emily Roberts
WBAY-TV, Channel 2 News
Published: Sep. 18, 2023
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MENASHA, Wis. (WBAY) – A collaboration in the Fox Cities is working to save lives during National Suicide Prevention Month.

The Fox Cities Mind Your Wellness survey reported Black, indigenous, and people of color communities are more than 3 times more likely to attempt suicide compared to other groups.

United Way, the NEW Mental Health Connection, People of Progression, NEW Hmong Professionals, and Partnerships Community Health Center are teaming up to make that number much lower.

Their Drive Health Project is creating a culturally specific model to support unmet mental health needs in the Hmong and Black communities with the help of a $1 million multi-year grant from the Wisconsin Community Safety Fund.

“The COVID-19 pandemic surfaced disparities confirming what we know to be true — that violence is a public health problem. Implementing innovative approaches that foster community safety and prevent violence to others and oneself is possible with the right investment of resources,” said Reggie Moore, director of violence prevention at the Medical College of Wisconsin. “That the Wisconsin Community Safety Fund can provide these much-needed dollars and support will further help to build communities across the state that are healthy and safe for everyone.”

“There’s a lot of stigmas and barriers to why people of color in general don’t have the awareness of what suicide prevention is and those barriers make it really hard when someone is struggling for someone to be aware of how they can help,” People of Progression Executive Director Kristen Gondek said.

Soon, a the groups are opening a ‘warm-line’ for anyone to call in a crisis to get immediate help from someone with shared life experience.

According to the survey, the “988 Wisconsin Lifeline Program answered over 46,000 calls in 2022, which is more than double the number of calls in 2021.” That statistic shines a light on just how vital crisis lines are in our area and why the DRIVE Health Project is making new ‘warm-lines’ a priority.

“Somebody who is in a community of color specifically Black or Hmong at this point will be able to call and receive a person on the other end who understands their life experience–may have shared experience,” Gondek told Action 2 News.

The project is also working to provide cultural competency training to organizations across our area.

“To be more effective, you really need someone on the other end who really understands who you are and go deeper, use their experience to help you go through that,” Long Vue, executive director of NEW Hmong Professionals, said. “I think it’s a milestone in our community in the sense that we come together and we recognize that there’s a need in the community. If we don’t step up and work together, nobody is going to step up.”

Vue says once the warmline is up and running, his next goal is to create a permanent walk-in location for crisis support.

“In ten years a goal of this project would be that we have safe referral pathways for people of color and also showing the data of how this effectively helped our community,” Gondek expressed.