Youth suicide is a surging crisis in New Hampshire

Monitor staff
Published: 10/20/2018 6:29:34 PM

When it comes to youth suicide in New Hampshire, the statistics are unforgiving.

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 2017, suicide deaths were the highest in two decades among young people and the state as a whole. So far, 2018 may not be much better. Officials have called it a public health crisis and are mobilizing to make a difference.

One issue they point to is 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.”

The lack of community support systems for people fighting mental illness and substance misuse is a major factor, advocates say.

Of particular focus is the 15- to 24-year-old age group – young adults who are at a high-risk transition period in life during high school, through college and into early adulthood.

“When folks are trying to figure out, ‘Where do I fit into life? What is my purpose? What do I want to do for a career? Do I want to go to school? Do I not?’ That all can be a recipe for stress and confusion,” said Shannon Murano, an aftercare coordinator at New Hampshire Hospital who works with young people who have been discharged for suicide attempts.

In addition to being at a major moment of change in life, individuals in those age groups are at a higher risk for substance use, onset of mental illness, relationship turmoil and have more freedom and access to lethal means, Murano said.

“It can be a really tough time, full of obstacles and challenges,” Murano said.

Although the numbers for teen and young-adult suicides in New Hampshire are still less than some older adult age groups, they have more than tripled over a 10-year span – from 12 deaths in 2006 to 38 in 2017 – by far the greatest increase among all groups.

“There is a tremendous increase in the rates from youth to young adults revealing the transition from middle/late adolescence to late adolescence/early adulthood as a particularly vulnerable time for death by suicide,” the 2016 NH Suicide Prevention annual report read.

Risk factors in New Hampshire include a high percentage of gun users (guns make up the highest percentage of all suicide deaths), tough winters and a lack of resources, especially in the northern part of the state.

“As soon as you go up in the North Country, it compares to states that have the highest rates of suicide,” said Elaine de Mello, a suicide prevention trainer at NAMI New Hampshire.

Coos County’s rates are 25 percent higher than in Merrimack County. The numbers in the North Country are almost the same as those in Alaska, the number one state for suicide deaths.

de Mello said it’s often young people who have recently graduated high school and are unemployed and living with their parents who are at a heightened risk.

“There are thoughts of, ‘I’m never going to go anywhere, I’m never going to get out of New Hampshire, there’s no point in going to college. I’m just going to incur debt and it’s not going to get me anywhere. My parents have lived there, my grandparents have always lived here – I’m stuck,’ ” de Mello said.

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If you or someone you know might be at risk for suicide, contact The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255.

For additional resources, visit NAMI New Hampshire's Connect Program at www.theconnectprogram.org.




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