When it comes to suicide, statistics alone don’t tell the whole story. On one hand, New England and the entire Northeast have the lowest overall rates of suicide. In a 2005 study, the Northeast had an average suicide rate of 8.1 compared to a high of 12.1 in the west. Montana had the highest and the District of Columbia the lowest.
But, even though Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island came in 44th, 47th and 48th, the more rural New England states had higher rates of suicide. Maine was 18th, Vermont was 22nd and New Hampshire, with its overall ranking of 24th, had a total suicide rate of 12.4.
The New Hampshire Suicide Prevention Council recently published a revised State Suicide Prevention plan to address the problem. The plan was due for revision, as the last plan was released more than five years ago, but the new version also includes many first time ideas.
“There has been a history in our state of a strong interest in suicide prevention,” says James McKay, Ph.D., chair of the council. “There are a lot of people involved in this, mostly volunteers.”
The largest changes to the plan include the addition of a military and veterans subcommittee.
“There is a large deployment of reserves heading out from N.H.,” said MacKay. “In my day it was unheard of for reserves to be called up for these kinds of operations.”
Unlike full-time military personnel, reservists go back to their daily lives when they return without the support systems set up for their active duty counterparts.
“There is a serious problem with returning vets who are suicidal,” says MacKay.
Another important area is the establishment of a public policy subcommittee to look at legislation.
“One recommendation is to create a suicide fatality review committee to look at the spectrum of death by suicide,” McKay adds. “The plan has already passed unanimously in the House, partly because there is no fiscal cost. The cost was already built into our system.”
The main goals of the new plan are to increase public awareness of suicide risk and access to care, reduce stigma associated with receiving care, improve media reporting and portrayal of suicide, create support groups, and improve surveillance systems.
The N.H. Suicide Prevention Council was established by state legislature in 2008.
“N.H. has become a national model for our suicide prevention efforts with veterans, service members and their families,” says Gov. John Lynch. “We have also developed a network of support for individuals who have lost a loved one to suicide. It is important that we continue to work to improve our suicide prevention efforts and continue to be a national leader.”
By Catherine Robertson Souter