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Friday, February 26, 2021

Jordan Elizabeth Harris Foundation: Shining a light on mental health and suicide prevention

Jordan Elizabeth Harris Foundation


Someone in the United States dies by suicide every 12 minutes, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Tom and Ellen Harris lost their daughter, Jordan Elizabeth, to suicide in 2012.

Shortly after her death, a close family friend seeded a fund in Jordan’s name to aid and support suicide prevention efforts in Tarrant County. The fund planted a seed in the Harrises, who expanded on the idea and ultimately co-founded the Jordan Elizabeth Harris Foundation in 2014.

“It started in 2014 in essence because after my husband and I lost our daughter Jordan Elizabeth and we started sharing our story with people, it was amazing to us how many people had stories to share back,” Ellen said. “We decided to form this foundation, whose mission basically is to provide suicide prevention awareness and training, and then provide depression research.”

The importance of the foundation’s research pillar, she said, stems from her daughter’s struggles with medication for severe depression that just didn’t work.

“We learned subsequently that the prescribing of medication for mental illnesses is pretty much like trial and error. And we thought, in this day and age how is this possible still?” Ellen said. Every year the foundation supports Center for Depression Research and Clinical Care at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, she added.

“People who die by suicide or people who have serious suicidal ideation are ambivalent about what they’re doing. They don’t want to die. They just don’t see any other way out,” Ellen said. “Many of them are dealing with depression and depression causes impairment to your thinking.

“Suicide is not a selfish act. Suicide is an act of hopelessness,” she added, “somebody who’s reached a point in their life where they don’t see any way out. And so that’s why it’s so important to have people around them to help them see that there are other options for them.”

After Jordan died, family and friends who were wondering whether there was more they could have done to save her also found a shortage of organizations in the county to reach out to about suicide prevention. That’s where the foundation came in.

The foundation’s executive director, Christina Judge, said that although there were many services that were reactive, such as grief counseling and group therapy, there was a lack of preventive services.

“We are doing things in this community that no one has ever done, and our services are really unduplicated,” Judge said. “So much so that Ellen and I are going to visit the Texas suicide prevention coordinator, Jenna Heise, [during the week of June 25] and she would like to use our community as a model in terms of what we’re doing to bridge service gaps and collaborate with mental health agencies.”

In light of the foundation’s meeting with Heiss and the recent high-profile suicides of designer Kate Spade and chef/media personality Anthony Bourdain, the Fort Worth Business Press sat down with Ellen and Judge to talk about mental health, suicide prevention and the foundation.

Do you think that the recent deaths by suicide of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain bring the issue of struggling with mental health, suicide and self-harm to the forefront?

Harris: It breaks my heart that it takes those kinds of high-profile deaths for people to be having these conversations that they need to be having anyway. But there’s no doubt that when there’s high-profile suicides like that, that more people talk about suicide.

What would you say is JEHF’s role within the city and the county community, and why is having a foundation like this important to the community?

Harris: One of the ways you prevent suicide is by having people train to recognize signs of somebody who is struggling. We are out there offering a free service to anyone who’s interested in becoming trained to recognize those signs. That is preventing suicide right there. Another way is for people to seek treatments who maybe have not because of the stigma attached to mental illness. The way you break down stigma is to talk about a subject that people are uncomfortable talking about. That’s not just important for our community. That’s important for everyone.

Your foundation has three main programs and initiatives — the research, Hope Squad and Hope Initiative/QPR training. Can you speak on each of those?

Judge: So, there’s this nationally recognized, evidence-based suicide prevention training called QPR — Question, Persuade, Refer. And if you wanted to have the skills and tools to be able to help somebody who was struggling with thoughts of self-harm, or who’s actually made an outcry, then you can sit in on a one-hour QPR gatekeeper training that gives you the skills and tools that you need to have to be able to question, persuade and refer somebody who’s struggling.

What we do with the Hope Initiative is we partner with other nonprofits, government entities such as MHMR and Mental Health America, and also businesses and corporations to go in and we certify people on their staff with the ability to provide the one-hour gatekeeper training.

Judge: The Hope Squad is basically a peer-to-peer curriculum that’s used in the schools. We were the first agency to offer this curriculum in the state of Texas. The neat thing about this is it’s ongoing and it creates a culture in the school of inclusivity, kindness and caring, anti-bullying, and most of all, it encourages help-seeking. The curriculum starts as young as fourth grade and goes through 12th grade and is very flexible and based on QPR.

It starts with the leadership. There are no additional staff that are needed to do this, because what happens is the school decides, “Okay, we’re going to implement Hope Squad.” There are a cadre of advisers that are selected. Then Hope Squad students are selected by their peers and the schools choose how many students they want.

Harris: The way they are chosen is, at the beginning of the year the kids are given one little question that says, pick the top three people that you know of that you would be comfortable going to if you had a problem.

When Christina and I were visiting a school, the head adviser was talking about what she was most excited about was that she could see the culture of the school changing so that the kids were actually nicer to each other. That, to me, that’s incredible … to think about the culture of the school changing because of these skills that the kids are learning and then going and sharing with their friends, that’s a game changer in my mind.

Judge: The Hope Squad right now is in five schools in Fort Worth ISD. White Settlement has eight [and] they’re going into their second year. Then in the fall, 12 schools in Birdville, all of Birdville middle schools and high schools are adding, with the possibility that they will add the elementary schools the next year.

Judge: Our board votes every year for a designated dollar amount out of unrestricted funds to provide funding for depression research. Currently, we are providing assistance to the Center for Depression Research and Clinical Care at UT Southwestern. Last year we contributed $65,000, and we have not provided the funding yet this year.

Dr. Madhukar Trivedi at the center is doing some really cutting-edge things, [including] blood testing. He’ll take a blood test on somebody that’s clinically depressed, look at it for enzymes and proteins, and that way they’re better able to pinpoint what kind of antidepressant would work for that individual.

How does JEHF work with the local community and who are some of your partners?

Judge: We’re members in the Mental Health Connection, which is a group of people that provide mental health services. What we do is we work collectively and collaboratively with MHMR, Mental Health America, Fort Worth ISD, the police department — there’s all these major players here and what we do is we work together on different committees. We are on the cultural connection committee right now; their main purpose is to reach out and help LGBTQ kids, youth. It’s quite amazing. We’re very fortunate to have these resources here in our community. In total we work with 25-plus organizations including Meals on Wheels, the Boys and Girls Club, ACH, Family Pathfinders, veterans’ group 22Kill and more.

Outside of preventive training, what resources do you offer for people who are struggling with depression or suicide, or who know someone facing that struggle?

Judge: We work with our community partners in behavioral health. For instance, last Monday I got a phone call on my way to the Mental Health Connection monthly meeting. “I have a family member who’s struggling, I think they’re suicidal. What can I do?” They had called the National Help Line and they got put on hold. I said, “Oh, good grief,” and I got out my card for Tarrant County MHMR, which has a nationally recognized 24-hour call center that also has a text line — 817-335-3022.

Not only are they suicide prevention, but they’re also resource and referral. They also have a 24-hour crisis team, so if somebody calls and they’re in crisis, there is a team that will go out and visit them and do an assessment. Real important to make sure that they have access to those resources and we thank them for reaching out, let them know that we are non-clinical, but we want to be able to give them the information immediately, and we also tell them, “If you’re experiencing a medical emergency, please dial 9-1-1.”

If someone is struggling with depression or suicidal thoughts, what do they do? What are their next steps?

Harris: I would certainly say seek treatment immediately.

Judge: Well, a lot of times what happens is they’ll tell you right off hand, I don’t have insurance. Well, if you don’t have insurance then JPS behavioral health would probably be your best bet. The private hospital, of course, Mesa Springs, they can either do self-pay or with insurance. And if they say, “I am going to kill myself right now,” go to the emergency room.

Would you have any different advice for somebody who knows someone who is struggling with depression or suicide?

Harris: We would put into play the QPR and say to persuade them to go get help. And take them, if they determine that that person was seriously considering suicide and had an actual plan. That’s when you don’t leave that person’s side. You take them immediately yourself to wherever it is you’re bringing them. That’s a situation where that person should not be left alone. People can support.

Do you have statistics on the impact of depression and suicide on Fort Worth and Tarrant County?

Judge: Suicide averages about 300 deaths a year in Tarrant County, but you have to look at it and these are the ones that are basically classified as suicides, but there are many that aren’t reported that way. They may be ruled an accident. And then the other thing that’s also important to remember is that for one completion, there’s 25 attempts on average, nationwide. And someone in Texas dies by suicide every three hours.

Harris: And there’s about 100 people who are affected by that death, by each one of those deaths, too – loved ones and friends and associates.

What would you say is the most important thing for people to know about your foundation?

Harris: Our mission is to prevent loss of life by suicide.

Judge: Let’s create a world where suicide is never the choice.

Get involved, get trained, get information

Get involved: The Jordan Elizabeth Harris Foundation is a nonprofit funded through donations at the website jordanharrisfoundation.org or by using Amazon Smiles.

Get trained: Beginning in July, JEHF will start a free monthly training called “Taco ‘Bout QPR,” featuring free tacos and the one-hour Question-Persuade-Refer gatekeeper training course. Location to be determined.

Get information: JEHF will host its fifth annual free Bring the Conversation to Light luncheon from noon to 1 p.m. Nov. 14 at the Round Up Inn in the Will Rogers Memorial Center. Attendees will receive a box lunch and information about suicide prevention and lessening the stigma surrounding mental health. Registration is open and donations are encouraged but not required. JEHF can come to corporate offices, small businesses and other venues to provide free QPR certification and training, as well as resource information for employees struggling with mental health and suicide.

“That’s another culture change that has to take place,” said Ellen Harris. “Depression is a medical condition just like diabetes is a medical condition, and once people from the top down start letting their employees know that it’s okay, that we accept that you may have this health condition, that’s the way to get those things changed. If you’re running a company, you want to be able to support the health of your employees.”


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