By SARA GIBONEY
KEARNEY – Suicide.
“It happens in every community, large and small,” says Krista Fritson.
A psychology professor at University of Nebraska at Kearney, Fritson shares her expertise by serving as the lead clinician for the Central Nebraska LOSS Team – a partnership between the Nebraska State Suicide Prevention Coalition and LOSS Development Group.
The goal of the LOSS Team is to provide a message of hope, so survivors of those who died from suicide can move through their time of shock and grief.
When a suicide occurs, the LOSS Team is activated by first response officials to provide resources, support and hope to suicide survivors.
The volunteers provide immediate assistance to help survivors cope with the trauma of their loss, provide follow-up contact with survivors, and coordinate the utilization of services and support groups within communities.
“We give them information about what’s available in the community, what professional providers are available. And we give them hope,” Fritson said. “We’ll meet with the family and give them that information – mostly resources, mostly support, mostly opportunities to share what their experience is like so they know they’re not alone.”
Fritson joined the LOSS Team when it was founded in 2014. Renae Zimmer and Dave Griek of Kearney, the Central Nebraska LOSS Team co-founders, approached Fritson about joining the team as its LOSS Team Lead Clinician.
“Having worked with suicidal clients and families with various types of grief, including family members with thoughts of suicide or suicidal behaviors – or loved ones who have completed suicides – this is a different angle,” said Fritson, Doctor of Psychology.
“I have upped the ante on my research, and I know a significantly greater amount about prevention, postvention, contagion and how interventions are best served in large populations, groups and educational systems compared to one-on-one therapeutic situations.”
The LOSS Team works with the suicide prevention coalition at Buffalo County Community Partners to make sure evidence-based practices in prevention and postvention are being used in the community.
“Research shows, repeatedly, that if suicides have occurred then postvention interventions become the standard for the next year,” Fritson said.
Postvention is an intervention with those who have lost a loved one to suicide. Family and friends of those lost to suicide are often at risk of suicide themselves.
“It’s an approach that reassures hope and offers support resources,” Fritson said.
A Kearney native, Fritson earned her bachelor’s degree from Kearney State College, her master’s degree from Fort Hays State University and her doctorate from the Forest Institute of Professional Psychology. She has worked at UNK for 13 years and has had a private practice, Fritson Psychological Services, in the Kearney community for seven years.
“I’m originally from Kearney, so I have a personal as well as professional vested interest in this community. I have family members who live here and will for a great deal of time. I have children who live here and a lot of connections, and actually have been personally touched by the most recent suicides of youth,” Fritson said.
“I’ve been able to draw upon my clinical skills and expertise to promote change and hopefully a voice of reason within the community, and be involved with other organizations that help promote change and kindness.”
Fritson, who also serves on the recently-formed McKenna’s Rae of Hope Foundation, emphasized that communication is key in helping a community heal from a suicide.
“As it affects our community, information and rational decision making are key. There is never one cause. As other efforts present themselves, community members need to research and make sure that these entities are using best practices,” Fritson said.
“We just need to communicate. Communication and openness, promoting that within our community, is going to provide and promote healing for those closely affected on an emotional level.”
She also noted that it’s important for the community to understand the cause of suicide is complex.
“There’s not just one cause of suicide ever, ever, ever. There are various pieces of the puzzle,” Fritson said. “It can be anything from trauma history to an impulsive act, to an immediate situation to depression that has just escalated at that time or chronic depression. There are so many variables. It can be family dynamics. It can be meanness by peers, even friends without intention of harm.”
Fritson teaches abnormal behavior and society, general psychology, introduction to clinical psychology and psychopathology. She has done research on self-efficacy, teaching issues, psychotherapy processes and outcomes, and emotional intelligence.
“Everything I do clinically impacts my teaching. That’s one of the benefits of me being a practicing clinician. I can bring real stories. I can bring clinical excerpts not from a text, not from a book. I can bring the outside experience,” she said.
“Being a part of the LOSS Team and working with suicidal issues has been able to make me a better teacher and promote real life practices and energy, and information in the classroom.”