In 2016, nearly 45,000 people died from suicide in the United States—one death every three minutes.* In New Hampshire, between 2008 and 2017, 245 people, between the ages of 10 and 24, lost their lives to suicide.** The Injury Prevention Center at the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth-Hitchcock (CHaD) is working to minimize these numbers.
CHaD’s Injury Prevention Center, which interfaces closely with the CHaD Trauma Program, focuses on outreach and education involving the prevention of unintentional injuries. What began as an educational campaign around car seat safety has grown to include a number of safety prevention programs including bike and pedestrian safety, safe sleep for babies, traffic safety, a teen driving program and others. The Injury Prevention Center at CHaD is the lead agency for Safe Kids New Hampshire, a state-level branch of Safe Kids, a national organization developed to address unintentional injury prevention for individuals under the age of 19. As part of their relationship with Safe Kids, the Injury Prevention Center looks at new trends in the areas of injury among youth, one of which is the growing rate of youth suicide.
As a member of the New Hampshire Suicide Prevention Council, the Injury Prevention Center is working with other members to address suicide awareness and prevention. Debra Samaha, RN, MPH, , program manager of the Injury Prevention Center, represents Dartmouth-Hitchcock on the council and serves as a member of the Data Collections and Analysis Subcommittee. Jim Esdon, program coordinator of the Injury Prevention Center supports council initiatives as a member of the Youth Suicide Prevention Assembly and as the coalition coordinator of Safe Kids New Hampshire.
The council was established in 2008 and includes a number of organizations and leaders throughout the state including elected officials, representatives from Survivors of Suicide Loss, the National Alliance of Mental Illness for New Hampshire (NAMI NH), educational institutions, law enforcement, first responders, health care providers and military and veteran organizations. The former director of the Injury Prevention Center, Elaine Frank, was one of the key prevention partners who helped identify the need to create a Council. A leadership team and eight subcommittees within the council work together to identify current knowledge and expertise in the areas of suicide prevention. “It is a diverse and seasoned group of people from many organizations who touch complex issues of suicide,” says Samaha.
The mission of the council is to reduce the incidence of suicide in New Hampshire by carrying out the goals of the State Suicide Prevention Plan:
- Raise public and professional awareness of suicide prevention.
- Address the mental health and substance abuse needs of all residents.
- Address the needs of those affected by suicide.
- Promote policy change at the state and local level.
A primary focus of the council is the development and maintenance of the New Hampshire Suicide Prevention Plan, which addresses suicide education and prevention in New Hampshire. The plan is updated every three years as trends and goals change.
Development of the plan relies on data gathered by the Data Collections and Analysis Subcommittee, which creates a comprehensive annual report for the state. “The Annual Data Report is the primary document for suicide data in the state of New Hampshire,” says Samaha. The report consists of data provided by local and national organizations such as New Hampshire Health and Human Services, National Violent Death Reporting, the criminal justice system and other organizations. The report identifies the most current suicide rates, factors that contribute to an individual’s risk for suicide and helps inform programming for grants. The report is distributed to New Hampshire legislators and is posted on the Department of Health and Human Services and NAMI NH web sites.
The council spreads their message of suicide prevention through a number of campaigns and events. One is their annual Suicide Prevention Conference. As a key contributor to this event, members of the Injury Prevention Center assist with financial and administrative tasks, supporting the planning committee and providing logistical support the actual day of the conference.
Another is the Zero Suicide campaign, which focuses on developing a culture in health care systems and behavioral health care systems that provides a comprehensive approach to suicide prevention. “Health care organizations within New Hampshire are looking at different pieces of this Zero Suicide approach as a model to look at suicide with a broader lens,” says Samaha.
Connect, developed and implemented by NAMI New Hampshire, is another model for planning and implementing suicide prevention, response, and what they refer to as “postvention”–the after effects caused by a suicide. Connect offers trainings to schools, emergency medical services, law enforcement and health care providers.
Suicide doesn’t just affect an individual; it affects a community. That’s the driving force behind the council, its prevention plan and the programs they promote. A need exists to approach prevention in a way that addresses a variety of risk factors. Individuals who are likely to attempt suicide are quite often those who struggle with mental illness or substance use disorders. As awareness for prevention strategies are shared the more likely we are to make a difference in the lives of those who struggle with this issue and possibly prevent the next death by suicide.
“We do know that there are ways for individuals and communities to strengthen connections and seek help so that suicides do not occur. Our focus moving forward is “Zero Suicide” in New Hampshire and making sure that everyone knows the TALK Line number 1-800-273-TALK (8255) to get help,” says Samaha.
*according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention
**according to the 2017 SPC Annual Report