Extension speaker addressing suicide prevention


March 23, 2023

On Wednesday, Debbie Fredricks will be in Cathlamet to talk about two programs offered by the WSU Extension Office

Fredricks, who was happily retired with 11 grandkids, got pulled back into professional life when she was offered a paycheck to do something that she would have done for free.

She had worked for an extension office for 21 years in foods and nutrition, but after retirement, she learned about suicide prevention training while volunteering.

“Literally within five days I needed it,” Fredricks said of the training.

And when she heard the program needed trainers, she volunteered.

Ready to practice what she was learning, she spoke to her husband who also worked in an extension office, and asked if she could talk to a group of chaperones affiliated with a program he was running about suicide prevention.

Sure, he told her, but you will be talking to farmers.

Call my colleague, he told her. He does these kinds of suicide prevention presentations for farmers. Ask if you can borrow some slides.

She called, and her husband’s colleague started asking a lot of questions.

He must have liked her answers, because he offered her a job.

She now works part time with the Skagit Valley WSU Extension Office, talking to people about two issues and programs: AgrAbility and Farm Stress.

The first of the two is AgrAbility. The program is available to anyone in the agricultural industry, whether it’s farmers, ranchers, forestry, fishing, etc., who is struggling to do their jobs in agriculture, whether it’s because of aging, injury, chronic illness, and more, Fredricks said.

As an example, she remembers one fellow who could no longer get in and out of his tractor. He needed a tractor lift. One of her co-workers went to his farm and watched how he did his work for a few hours before heading back to the office and looking through what Fredricks calls assistive technology information.

They are the innumerable, inventive tools that make life easier for people.

Things like bucket hooks that provide extra strength to carry five gallon buckets without ruining their hands, or tractor lifts, or devices that make it easier to get in and out of a car, or pick up items off the floor. There are more tools than any one person can imagine.

“We search through everything we’ve got, talk to each other, make sure we are covering all the bases that the person might need,” Fredricks said. “Then we put together a report, This is what you asked us about, this is what we observed, these are the assistive technologies we think might be of help to you.”

Alas, the program doesn’t actually have the funds to purchase the items for clients, but it can direct them to where they are.

“It’s a really great program,” Fredricks said. “It allows people to stay on the farm, and do the things that they love to do.”

The second program, and the one Fredricks will be talking about locally on March 28 is Farm Stress, which is focused on suicide prevention.

“Suicide prevention is a passion of mine,” Fredricks said. “My family has lost three people. The last one was a 13 year old in August."

“When I first took this training one of the things they talked about, the common reason we lose people to suicide is hopelessness,” she added.

The program utilizes a formula in the training, QPR. It stands for question, persuade, and refer. The training was developed in Spokane and takes about an hour and a half.

“We don’t have to be a doctor to do this, but just like CPR we are that person’s best hope of surviving if we use CPR, though they may not survive,” Fredricks said. “I don’t ever want anybody to feel guilty if what they did did not save a life. Hopefully it will, and we find that often it does.”

The 90 minute training is targeted to people in agriculture, but Fredricks says they won’t turn anyone away.

“We know that the agricultural industry is a very high risk industry,” Fredricks said. “There are so many uncontrollable issues. It’s a very risky and stressful business. Lots and lots of people take their lives. You don’t always see it, because it’s a ‘farm accident.’”

There is only one other group with as high a risk, and that’s the LGBTQ community.

“Loggers and fishermen,” Fredricks said. “These are tough men and women. They don’t want to ask for help.”

Through the program, they are working very hard to erase the stigma of suicide and mental health care.

“We don’t want people to suffer needlessly,” she said. “We all have times in our life when we have mental health issues. Grieving for instance. Some people handle grief really well, others do not. We don’t want people to feel like they can’t get help, or there is something wrong with them if they need somebody to talk to. It is not a personal defect, or failing in them, or something to be ashamed of.”’

“Erasing the stigma in itself is suicide prevention,” she said. “We want people to know it’s okay to go and get help.”

The goal of the program is to saturate every community they can reach in Washington state with the training and information in order to save lives, she added.

During the training on March 29, Fredricks will talk about warning signs, who to talk to, and where to go.

She also said that thanks to this program, people in the agricultural community can receive six sessions with a counselor, including via telehealth, for free and continue their sessions with a sliding fee scale if they don’t have insurance.

“This is really exciting that we can offer this to people,” Fredricks said.

Call the Wahkiakum WSU Extension office at 360-795-3278 for more information about when and where to hear Fredricks story and how to help when someone is struggling.


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