Chair of Suicide Prevention Coalition resigns for lack of help
‘Suicide prevention is everyone’s responsibility’
Out of his own personal tragedy, local therapist John Schuderer joined and took over leadership of Yavapai County’s sole suicide prevention coalition about five years ago.
Over the course of that time, the coalition managed to bring about substantial awareness and prevention strategies to a mental health dilemma that claims more lives in Yavapai County than any other county in the state. The coalition has collaborated with numerous other mental health and non-profit agencies to spread the message to schools and the community.
In the past year, the all-volunteer effort has struggled such that Schuderer ended up shouldering much of the load for coordinating a lengthy list of programs and events. Coalition meetings often are attended by only a handful of people, or he had to cancel for lack of attendance.
2018 suicide statistics
Age range: 16-93
Average Age: 55.7 years old
Source: Yavapai County
Medical Examiner’s Office
The now retired clinician who lost his adult son, Noel, to suicide in 2001 admitted he was starting to be a bit frazzled by the demands mixed with his desire to refocus his efforts in new directions.
“I had a lot of people standing behind me saying, ‘Yeah, John, go, go go’ but no one stepping up to do the work,” he said.
Schuderer’s not bitter. He’s just decided to call a time-out.
In a surprise email to coalition partners and other non-profit agencies that have played a role in promoting suicide awareness and prevention, Schuderer early this week announced he will no longer serve as the coalition chairperson, effective immediately.
Rather, he intends to become a suicide prevention advocate for broader mental health changes and strategies aimed at reducing suicide rates.
“I’m not disappearing or anything, I just want to change focus to ‘upstream prevention,’” Schuderer said of switching his energies.
Schuderer said he appreciates all who have championed the cause, and who he hopes will continue to do so in his absence, either through the coalition or through other non-profit agencies that have attention to suicide to their priorities.
Despite the continued rise in this county’s suicide rates, Schuderer is confident the coalition’s attention and work has saved lives, he said.
Schuderer said he wants to tap into more national mental health resources able to create protocols for intensive counseling and therapeutic resources for people before suicide emerges as an option. He wants to address the impact of bullying, abuse and other trauma as it relates to suicide.
He also wants to examine how to halt the social isolation that can lead older adults to believe their life no longer is valuable.
Schuderer just returned from a conference in Denver hosted by the American Association of Suicidology.
“I strongly believe that suicide prevention is everyone’s responsibility,” Schuderer wrote in his email.
MatForce Executive Director Merilee Fowler said Schuderer’s decision will leave “really big shoes to fill” but she has high hopes that someone will step up. She said the coalition received a $10,000 grant from sister agency, Community Counts, and she would like to see those dollars continue to be used for coalition programs.
“So there is money to implement projects if we can find another good leader to take the helm,” Fowler said.
Yavapai County Community Health Services Public Health Coordinator Terri Farneti said Schuderer’s list of accomplishments is long and “he will be sorely missed.”
Like many others, Farneti hopes that new leadership can be found. If not, she hopes the coalition’s mission will be absorbed by another entity that will still support suicide prevention as a priority issue.
Though the statistics can make it seem like “thankless work,” Farneti said the coalition has spearheaded projects that continue to make a meaningful difference, be it showing film documentaries or offering training to mental health staff and educators about warning signs.
The recent Armed to Know suicide prevention program that garnered about 500 kids and adults “was fabulous” and speaks to this community’s commitment to offering solutions for teens and families, Farneti said.
A Prescott Survivor of Suicide group support leader Tina Blake said Schuderer invested his all into the coalition. His collaborative spirit enabled suicide to become a community conversation rather than a taboo topic, she said.
“He has been an information catalyst,” Blake said. “I really hope someone takes the reins because it’s really something needed in the community.”