CONCORD— Attitudes are changing about suicide, the second leading cause of death for New Hampshire's young people ages 15 to 34, and the fourth leading cause of death in those ages 35 to 54.
"It is OK to talk about the 'S' word and ask the questions to keep everyone safe," said Pauline Laliberte of the guidance department at Bow High School.
The stigma associated with mental illness and suicide works against its prevention because it discourages those who need help from seeking it and it also traumatizes survivors, health officials said at a news conference sponsored by the New Hampshire Suicide Prevention Council Monday in the lobby of the Legislative Office at the State House.
This week is National Suicide Prevention Week and this year's theme is "Preventing Suicide Through Changing Attitudes: The Times They Are a Changing."
Laliberte said that five years ago a student in the Bow School District committee suicide, and shortly after, a parent did the same. The community was prepared to handle it, she said, because it made a commitment to train school staff and workers, as well as the town's emergency personnel in how to deal with the issue.
Part of that training included CALM (Counseling on Access to Lethal Means) which includes reducing a suicidal person's access to firearms and medications, something that has proven to be effective in reducing suicides, according to the council.
In 2011, 200 people committed suicide in New Hampshire and the vast majority — 162 — were males. Of the 200 who killed themselves, 29 were under the age of 24 and 49 were between the ages of 25 and 44. Seventy-seven people used a gun to kill themselves, 61 chose hanging or asphyxiation, 37 died from an overdose of drugs or poison, and the remaining used various other means.
Maj. Gen. Bill Reddel, adjutant general, New Hampshire National Guard, said that nationally there 349 active duty military committed suicide last year — 79 percent were deployed once or not at all, 60 percent were in their first year. One in five were in their late 20s.
In New Hampshire in 2007, the National Guard implemented the Deployment Cycle Support Care Coordination Program. Since then, no one has died by suicide.
In the first three months of 2013, the program handled 267 cases involving 432 individuals and family members. Care coordinators intervened successfully in three instances of significant suicide risk. Thirteen participants were diagnosed and secured treatment for previously untreated mental or emotional health or adjustment problems.
While the program has proven extremely effective, Reddel said "there are no silver bullets to stop" suicide. "You never know what demons are inside a person."
Help is a phone call away — the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) — for anyone having suicidal thoughts.
According to the state Suicidal Prevention Council, everyone should know the warning signs of suicide: an individual talking about wanting to die looking for a way to kill oneself; talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose; talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain; talking about being a burden to others; increasing the use of alcohol or drugs; acting anxious, agitated or recklessly; sleeping too little or too much; withdrawing or feeling isolated; showing rage or talking about seeking revenge; and displaying extreme mood swings.
The more signs a person shows, the greater the risk, according to the Suicide Prevention Council.
If someone you know exhibits warning signs of suicide, you should not leave the person alone; remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt; call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273 TALK (8255); take the person to the emergency room or seek help form a medical or mental health professional.