Posted Dec 23, 2016 at 2:26 PM
Updated Dec 23, 2016 at 2:26 PM
By Hadley Barndollar firstname.lastname@example.org
Some 218 Seacoast students seriously considered suicide in 2015, according to a youth risk behavior survey conducted by the state Department of Health and Human Services.
Thirty-nine of those students attempted suicide once, 30 attempted two or three times, five attempted four or five times and six attempted six or more times.
Exeter Hospital Director of Community Relations Debbie Vasapolli said suicide is the No. 2 killer in youth in the state of New Hampshire after accidental deaths, as depicted in a community health needs assessment done by the hospital in 2013. According to a 2015 annual state report by the State Suicide Prevention Council, out of the 225 New Hampshire suicides, 19 were under age 24. Between 2007 and 2015, 1,760 people died by suicide in the state.
In 2016, Exeter Hospital launched a new suicide grant program, distributing $200,000 to Seacoast organizations addressing stigma, rehabilitation, activities and more.
"In 2013, one of the leading needs of our Seacoast community was indeed around youth suicide," Vasapolli said. "What actually brought about the grant program was during a discussion with our board of trustees. They really wanted to see if we put together resources and applied them heavily towards one particular area, could we really make an impact? The board determined the suicide rate was really significant and it needed to be addressed."
Vasapolli said the grant program is based on underlying areas that may influence suicidal behavior or risk such as isolation, bullying, substance abuse, gender identity and more.
Exeter Hospital has been accepting grant applications the last six weeks. Recipients will be
announced the week of Feb. 13.
"It could be organizations providing out-of-school activities, suicide prevention training, arts programs," said Jennifer McGowan, community impact administrator. "They should be places teens can go, someone they can talk to, a place they can connect with someone one-on-one.
We left the grant program pretty broad because we wanted to hear from the community."
Vasapolli said the grant program aims to enable conversation around suicide, an issue she says the Seacoast is facing on a "critical level."
Patricia Tilly, chief of the Bureau of Population Health and Community Services for DHHS, said 10.6 percent of ninth-grade females on the Seacoast have attempted suicide. The number increases for tenth-grade girls at 10.9 percent.
Tilly cited "good friendships, good adult mentorships and feeling engaged in the community" as essential combatants to suicide risks.
"We're going to talk about (suicide), but we can either talk about it now, or tragically when it happens," Vasapolli said. "What we're looking to do is connect and partner with people and organizations who have that specific training and expertise."
Exeter Hospital has worked with Connor's Climb Foundation, a local organization providing suicide prevention education to New Hampshire youth. Exeter High School freshman Connor Ball died by suicide in 2011. Ball's friends and family banded together to form Connor's Climb. The hospital provided the organization with a $25,000 grant this past year.
"To have a partner in the work of youth suicide prevention, and one as dedicated as Exeter Hospital, we couldn't ask for anything more," said Tara Ball, Connor's mother, founder of Connor's Climb.
Connor's Climb is working on implementing Signs of Suicide (SOS) training in local schools. Exeter High School has begun using the training in health class and the Cooperative Middle School has taught it for four years. Ball said they are looking to build an "army" of trainers in the state.
"The stigma is there and that's what we're trying to do by talking about it," Ball said. "If I had a broken arm, you'd want to sign my cast. If I went to the emergency room with a heart attack, they would want to treat me immediately. Mental health is a little bit different, for some reason."
Vasapolli echoed the sentiment that suicide is "tip-toed" around.
"There seems to be a general underlying fear that if we talk about it, it's going to happen," Vasapolli said. "What we learned from experts is that this is not the case. It's actually a good thing to talk about so that people don't feel isolated, so that people can say 'I'm feeling X,' or 'I'm feeling this way.'"