CT suicide numbers higher and younger

By Eileen Weber
June 30th, 2024
Brendan Burke, MSW, assistant child advocate for the state of Connecticut.
Brendan Burke, MSW, is an assistant child advocate for the state of Connecticut.

Legislation seeks to fund prevention efforts

Connecticut’s rate of suicide is on the rise. According to the Connecticut Suicide Advisory Board, one person died by suicide every 21 hours in the state and suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people aged 10 to 34.

Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported a 52% increase in youth suicide from 2000 to 2021. This was particularly true during the pandemic for adolescents aged 12 to 17.

In April, Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal introduced legislation seeking to fund suicide prevention initiatives, support healthcare providers in receiving proper suicide training and create a centralized hub that would provide safety information to at-risk youths and their support networks.

“When a gun is involved, there is no suicide attempt. It’s a completed suicide. There’s no coming back from that.” --Brendan Burke, MSW, assistant child advocate, state of Connecticut

In a statement, Blumenthal referred to the trend of increasing rates as “beyond disturbing and gut wrenching.”

The situation is the impetus for the Child Suicide Prevention and Lethal Means Safety Act to support care and counseling wherever children can be reached—in schools, the doctor’s office or in emergency departments,” Blumenthal noted.

“Fighting this crisis is critical. With federal funding and support, it must happen,” he said.

In the past, Blumenthal supported initiatives for youth mentoring, child traumatic stress and school violence. At a press conference on April 15 at The Village Urgent Crisis Center in Hartford, Blumenthal touted the benefits of suicide prevention. “If you prevent access to objects of self-harm so that kids have a fighting chance to get some counseling before they act out on suicidal ideation,” he said, “there’s hope.”

Laura Saunders, Psy.D., ABPP, is a licensed clinical psychologist at the Institute of Living at Hartford Hospital.

Laura Saunders, Psy.D., ABPP, is a licensed clinical psychologist at the Institute of Living at Hartford Hospital.

Laura Saunders, Psy.D., ABPP, is a licensed clinical psychologist at the Institute of Living at Hartford Hospital. She agreed with Blumenthal, saying reducing lethal means is a critical part of any risk assessment for children and adolescents.

“Locking up firearms and medications. Removing knives or other sharp objects for a child showing risk,” she said. “Even Tylenol, Benadryl, or Ibuprofen taken in excess can be lethal. It takes no effort at all to Google high doses of over-the-counter medicines.”

Brendan Burke, MSW, assistant child advocate for the state, said while Connecticut has restrictive gun laws, there have been kids as young as 11 or 12 years old killing themselves using a gun they found in the home.

“When a gun is involved, there is no suicide attempt. It’s a completed suicide,” he said. “There’s no coming back from that.”

In a December article from Boston University, Sarah Ketchen Lipson, associate professor of health law, policy, and management at the university’s School of Public Health, said discussions about suicide must include gun laws.

“Most deaths by suicide are with firearms and decreasing access to firearms is an important way to prevent folks from dying by suicide,” she said.

Burke said to better understand children’s mental health, they look at surveys, the number of attempts and hospitalizations. In a youth risk survey, college aged students reported only 22.3% of the time feeling like they were getting the help they needed.

“That’s a big concern, because 15 years ago that number was 44 percent,” he said. “So, we’re going backwards.”

Saunders noted that children and adolescents developmentally lack something that adults have—perspective. And, adults more often have tools to overcome hurdles and a built-in support system, some things young people may lack.

Saunders said risk factors include financial issues, long term effects of COVID (which can also include financial problems) or peer pressure and social media. She said it could be the level of exposure to a world in turmoil—wars, death, famine and protests.

Then there are warning signs like withdrawal, irritability, school failures, high anxiety and a stop to doing things they previously enjoyed.

Burke said children feel isolated when they lack connections. And isolation would include being on the phone in their room for seven hours but not face to face with others.

Blumenthal’s bill seeks to increase training for health professionals to better assess risk.

But Burke thinks there must be more to it.

“Anybody working with a kid—a teacher, a coach, or that could include school counselors, even pediatricians—should have training in CPR and first aid. Part of that first aid should include mental health,” he explained. “Let’s make sure they are safe and can be referred to someone who can help.”

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