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2018 Stories of the Year: New Hampshire fights back against youth suicide

  • James Allard, 7, reaches up to touch the balloons at the start of NAMI Walk across from Memorial Field on Sunday, September 30, 2018, The Allard family walked in honor of Jeremy Allard who died from suicide in 2018. His wife Amy raised over 3000. GEOFF FORESTER



Monitor staff
Saturday, December 29, 2018

Martha Dickey, Tina White and Tanya Decato don’t want anyone else to experience the loss and pain they did.

That’s why their families have spent the last year fighting for suicide prevention programs to expand in the state through fundraising, blogging and public speaking.

Their sons – Jason, Alec and Seth – were three of 38 young people to take their lives in the state in 2017, the highest year for suicides among that age group in the Granite State in two decades.

“It’s an unspoken thread between us – we know what the others are going through,” White said. “It’s that awful club we’re in together.”

The Dickeys, Whites and Decatos are fierce advocates to save the lives of children and to get help for people suffering from mental illness.

Like the rest of the United States, suicide is the second leading cause of death for individuals under 24 years old. But New Hampshire’s rates are 50 percent higher than the national average, and they’re spiking.

In October, the Monitor published five-part series, “Finding Hope” that profiled the families and others who are working to prevent suicide in New Hampshire.

The series focused on teens and young adults and the unique risk factors they face. It covered how suicide impacts families, schools and the health care system and, most importantly, what can be done about it and what resources are out there.

Holly Fenn, whose son 14-year-old son Dalton died in 2009, spoke about her foundation, Reach1Teach1Love1, which takes her to schools to speak with students about suicide.

She said that work opened her eyes to how important it is for schools to be addressing mental health in a meaningful way.

“We saw immediately how people took to that and how people started talking to us because of that,” Holly said. “Kids with tears streaming down their face would literally follow me out into the hallway and line up to talk to me, looking for support.”

Another issue advocates pointed to was spending: New Hampshire spends far less than other states on suicide prevention. While neighboring Massachusetts has spent millions a year, the Granite State spends around $100,000.

“We know for individual suicide deaths that they are very complex and there’s not a single reason why,” said Ken Norton, executive director of NAMI NH. “But there is a single answer about why this increase: We as a society have done very little to prevent it.”

In November, the state’s Department of Health and Human Services released its 10-year mental health plan, calling for an infusion of $24 million for enhanced mental health programs in schools, more integration with primary care and behavioral health services, support between transitions in care and an infusion of peer supports.

The plan also details the need for an increase in alternatives to the emergency department and psychiatric hospitalization.

The number of state residents waiting in hospital emergency departments for admission to inpatient psychiatric treatment has more than tripled since 2014, exceeding 70 across the state on several days in the past year, according to the plan.

Stephanie Pelley, a single mother who has been in the emergency room with her children, said the stays often make them feel worse, not better. The rooms they wait in for days are empty, Pelley said. Children are not allowed to have pens, pencils or TV remotes. There are no clocks, because they can be taken apart and used to hurt someone or yourself, Pelley said.

“This is not a prison, it’s a mental hospital or a psychiatric unit,” she said. “These units were designed for short terms stays. They were never meant to be a place where a person would stay for days or weeks.”