State strives for suicide prevention

CONCORD – Two years ago, Jim Hill had everything going for him, his father said.

The 27-year-old was recently married and had just received a scholarship for his second year of law school. He had just returned from spending a week visiting with his family, during which he seemed completely normal.

Weeks later, he killed himself.

His father, Michael Hill, was shocked and saddened, but learned to do the one thing he could to cope with his grief: help raise awareness about suicide.

Hill got involved with the New Hampshire Youth Suicide Prevention Assembly, an organization that works to reduce the number of suicide deaths in the state. Now, thanks to the help of volunteers like Hill, state agencies and local organizations, New Hampshire has developed a formal plan to prevent suicides.

The Youth Suicide Prevention Assembly and the state Department of Health and Human Services released a state plan for suicide prevention Thursday, modeled after the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention.

Former U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher released the national plan in 2001, recommending every state subsequently develop its own.

The New Hampshire plan identifies nine goals for suicide prevention, including raising awareness about suicide, educating the public on risk factors, improving access to mental health providers and reducing lethal methods of self-harm, such as guns, drugs and alcohol.

The plan was released at a press conference in the middle of an all-day conference on reducing youth suicide in the state. Hill said people have historically been very quiet about suicide, but that it’s an issue the state needs to address in order to prevent more people from dying.

“If somebody died of cancer or got hit by a truck, it wouldn’t be a secret,” Hill said. “Not talking about it is crazy.”

Suicides outnumber homicides six to one in New Hampshire, said Mary Ann Cooney, director of the Division of Public Health for the Department of Health and Human Services.

Elaine Frank, the Youth Suicide Prevention Assembly coordinator and co-chair of the group that developed the plan, said she became involved after state legislators recommended YSPA and the Department of Health and Human Services work together to develop a plan.

Frank said the plan pays a great deal of attention to making the public aware that suicide does happen and can be prevented.

“A lot of the goals deal with training and education,” she said. Effie Malley, director of the Suicide Prevention Partnership, said the plan suggests looking at mental health services and substance abuse treatment centers, for example, to pinpoint individuals at risk before they attempt suicide.

“Suicide worldwide claims more life than war and homicide combined,” Malley said. “People don’t realize that suicide is often preventable.”

Cooney said the plan attempts to involve all the people and agencies that are affected by a suicide and can prevent someone from taking his or her own life. It calls for friends, family, schools and support agencies to come together.

“It’s not simply the issue of a death,” Cooney said. “It (suicide) has fingers that move into other areas of our life.”

Hill hopes the plan sensitizes the public to the issue of suicide prevention and makes it easier for people to see the warning signs. He knows how difficult it is to lose a family member to suicide and doesn’t want other families to lose their children the same way.

“Even if there’s one or two saved, that’s an important thing,” Hill said.