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Jennifer Horn: Stopping the Granite State's suicide crisis

June 12. 2018 8:36PM

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a report that showed a steady increase in the rate of suicides in our country over the past two decades, with New Hampshire having the third-highest increase out of all 50 states. Suicide rates in the Granite State increased 48.3 percent from 1999 to 2016.

By any measure, that is an alarming statistic. Death by suicide is approaching epidemic proportions in our country and the numbers are staggering. According to a comprehensive 2016 study done by the Veterans Administration, veterans commit suicide at a rate of 20 per day, accounting for 18 percent of all suicides in our country. The CDC report shows the greatest increase among middle-aged adults. Over half of all suicides reported in 2015 were of people who had no known previous mental health issues. And a 2015 CDC Youth Behavior Survey showed that high school students who are considered sexual minorities attempt suicide at a rate of almost four times that of heterosexual students.

Perhaps most heartbreaking of all, suicide is the third-highest cause of death among all teens. Today’s youngest generation has grown up in a world that has seen the extraordinary benefits of technological advances, but also lived with the unintended consequences as well. Social media has become an unsupervised arena of bullying and personal attacks that can make a young person feel outnumbered and overwhelmed. While technology can be used to connect and advance society, it has also created a sense of disconnect and disengagement for many teens who suffer from bullying and other social struggles.

According to a story in USA Today just last week, “A 2017 study... published in Clinical Psychological Science investigated increased media use — social media, news on the Internet, computer and video games, etc. — and learned it is a potential contributor to the national jump in suicide rates among adolescents.”

Mental illness remains highly stigmatized in our society. It is a complex web of conditions including, but not limited to, depression, psychoses, and substance abuse. It’s incredibly difficult for people to acknowledge when they are struggling with emotional or mental issues.

Here in New Hampshire, we have a governor who is trying to destigmatize mental illness and make treatment more accessible. Gov. Chris Sununu has signed legislation increasing the number of mental health beds, decreased the number of mental health patients waiting in emergency rooms, and directed an additional $15 million to mental health services.

Sununu is also working closely with the New Hampshire Suicide Prevention Council to effectively implement the updated, comprehensive New Hampshire Suicide Prevention Plan.

Increased funding for awareness and treatment programs goes a long way, but I can’t help thinking there is more we can do.

At its core, suicide is a cry for human connection. It is a response to believing you are a burden, not valuable, or caught in an unending spiral of despair and darkness. We — those of us who are not struggling with depression, bullying, or other issues — must take the first step. It is incumbent upon us to reach out and be compassionate, caring, and kind. It is on us to set an example of inclusion, respect and empathy for our children, and we must listen when they come to us in pain or confusion.

In such an angry, noisy, divisive world, it’s easy, sometimes, to miss the signs when someone is reaching out to us for help, for a connection. The solutions are, of course, quite complicated, but it would be a giant step forward in decreasing the rate of suicide in our community if we were all just a little bit kinder to each other.

If you are even thinking about taking your own life, please get help. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Lifeline Chat is a web chat service run by the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The Crisis Text Hotline offers help 24 hours a day. Just text 741741 to connect with a counselor.

Nashua’s Jennifer Horn is the former chair of the New Hampshire Republican Party and is active in political and civic affairs.

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