Local therapist works to widen the audience of suicide prevention tools

By Sarah Beauchamp | Wichita Journalism Collaborative

A Wichita State University mental health professional is working to give people a resource after they go through a mental health crisis by taking an established therapy tool, and offering it to a wider audience.

Dr. Jessica Provines is the chief psychologist for Wichita State. She has taken hope kits, a tool used in dialectical behavioral therapy, and started the process of distributing them to patients after they leave the hospital.

Provines said the goal of hope kits is “bridging the gap” between the time when a person leaves a mental health facility after a crisis to the time a person is able to receive follow up care from a mental health professional.

Comcare and Wichita State have partnered to distribute these kits. Students at Wichita State that are determined to have suicidal ideations receive them. Patients leaving Comcare also can receive these kits.

Hope kits are an established practice in dialectical behavioral therapy, where patients talk through their issues in hopes of helping them work through their intense emotions. Patients work with their therapist over the course of several weeks to create their own hope kits. They learn what items are helpful for themselves, and the necessary skills to utilize alongside them.

“We know from attempt survivors that it was a mistake made by a mind under siege,” Provines said.

The goal of these kits is to add resource for suicidal people to give them pause, and prevent them from acting on those feelings. Provines said this is a tool people can utilize when they’re in times of distress.

“When you’re in the midst of a crisis, you fall back on old patterns,” Provines said.  “The idea is ‘how can you have something that you don’t have to think about?’ you can just go straight to it.”

Provines wanted a way to make this more accessible to people in a mental health crisis. She worked with a team to design kits that have all the same information, and resources necessary for a kit. Patients who are given kits are encouraged to personalize them.

Chloe Brown is a student at Wichita State, and she works as a graphic designer for the HOPE services team on campus. Brown designed the kits.

“The box is about giving people not only the resources, but the hope, to move forward after they’ve experienced a crisis,” Brown said. “It’s important to help people in challenging times, and I think it’s really cool to be a part of that any way possible.”

Brown said she felt this was an important project for her to work on.

“I knew that this was an important project, because of the impact it could have for people,” Brown said. “I took my time, …and worked really hard to make sure this cause was honored.”

Provines had already been creating hope kits with patients in therapy. For the past 15 years she worked with groups at the university to teach them how to make their own.

The idea here is, how can we get this effective intervention into the hands of people who might not have access to a DBT group,” Provines said. “I’m a DBT trained therapist, and there’s only a handful of us in Wichita. So it’s a specialized treatment.”

She had the idea for these hope kits after her daughter was diagnosed with type one diabetes. When they returned home from the hospital she and her daughter had received several packets and guides full of information and resources on how to manage her diagnosis. 

“I thought ‘why do people who go to the hospital for a psychiatric emergency not get the same kind of love and care?’” Provines said.

Provines said in the first month of distribution, they’ve already given out 60 kits. She said in that month Comcare reached out three times, because they’d run out of kits and wanted more.

Gorretti Mendez-Vallejo is a crisis therapist at Comcare, she works with patients while they are mid-crisis. Mendez-Vallejo said the Hope Kits have been a valuable tool she’s added to her work with patients.

Mendez-Vallejo works with patients to create safety plans for themselves after they leave. Safety plans include; teaching patients to recognize warning signs, identifying safe people to reach out to and safe places to for a distraction and creating a safe environment for themselves.

Mendez-Vallejo said patients struggling to follow the safety plan, or experiencing these issues for the first time have especially benefited from the kits. She also said it has been a good resource for low-income patients who don’t have the funds to buy the tools they need that are included in the kits.

“It makes them glad they asked for help,” Mendez-Vallejo said. “They appreciate that someone out there cares, to provide it for them.”

Provines encouraged people to make their own hope kits. She said it was important to include; hobbies and ways to distract the mind, things that calm the senses like calming music or treats, reminders of reasons for living like pictures of loved ones, ways to safeguard environments including pill and gun locks and Narcan and a list of people and resources you can call.

Provines said she’d only received funding for the first 250 kits, but is hoping to work with Wichita businesses that want to support mental health to get funding for more.

“We just want to give individuals in crisis tools, and resources they can use to hold on to hope during times of despair,” Provines said.