Sui­cide rate on the rise

Boston Herald - - NEWS - By RICK SOBEY Rick Sobey is a re­porter for the Low­ell Sun. Fol­low him on Twit­ter @rsobeyLSun.

Sui­cide rates are ris­ing in Mas­sachusetts and across the coun­try, though de­spite the ris­ing num­bers and the com­plex­i­ties of the is­sue, peo­ple are al­ways avail­able to help any­one in need.

Death by sui­cide is now the sec­ond-lead­ing cause of death in the coun­try for those ages 15 to 24, ac­cord­ing to Deb­bie Helms, di­rec­tor of the Sa­mar­i­tans of Mer­ri­mack Val­ley, which has con­fi­den­tial cri­sis help lines.

The lead­ing cause of death for this age group is ac­ci­dents (un­in­ten­tional in­juries). Pre­vi­ously, the sec­ond-lead­ing cause of death was homi­cide, which is now third.

“It’s im­por­tant for peo­ple to know that sui­cide is pre­ventable and there are many treat­ment op­tions,” Helms said. “We need peo­ple to reach out so we can help them. They are not alone.”

Mas­sachusetts youth sui­cides rose from 69 in 2014 to 76 in 2015. That fig­ure in­creased to 86 in 2016, the most re­cent year for which sta­tis­tics are avail­able.

Over­all in 2016, 638 peo­ple died by sui­cide in Mas­sachusetts. Over the past sev­eral years, Mas­sachusetts has usu­ally seen a 3 to 4 per­cent in­crease in the num­ber of to­tal sui­cide deaths each year.

Most of the in­di­vid­u­als have an un­der­ly­ing men­tal health con­di­tion that has not been di­ag­nosed, Helms said. Par­ents need to no­tice the warning signs, she em­pha­sized.

These risk fac­tors in­clude: skip­ping school, drop­ping out of a sport for no ap­par­ent rea­son, and not so­cial­iz­ing as much.

“When par­ents no­tice any­thing dif­fer­ent out of their chil­dren’s be­hav­ior, they need to open up a frank and hon­est dis­cus­sion about it,” Helms said. “They need to say, ‘We’re here for you, and we want you to be safe.’”

Chil­dren who are strug­gling must have at least one per­son who they’re com­fort­able con­fid­ing in, she said.

Par­ents can look for clues on so­cial me­dia, Helms added. Their child may have writ­ten con­cern­ing posts, which could re­veal de­pres­sion.

Low­ell High School’s Anna As­la­nian, 16, made the de­ci­sion to take her own life in Oc­to­ber. She wrote in a let­ter that she had been bul­lied and body-shamed.

Sev­eral fac­tors can lead some­one to take their own life, Helms said. She again pointed to un­der­ly­ing men­tal-health con­di­tions not be­ing di­ag­nosed.

“It’s not just the bul­ly­ing or the body im­age. It’s a very com­pli­cated is­sue,” she said.

How­ever, she added: “Bul­ly­ing can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.”

Over the years, Helms has seen more and more schools ad­dress­ing sui­cide preven­tion head-on. Many schools have rec­og­nized the im­por­tance of train­ing, she said. Some don’t al­ways have the re­sources avail­able.

The Sa­mar­i­tans of Mer­ri­mack Val­ley, a pro­gram of Fam­ily Ser­vices of the Mer­ri­mack Val­ley, has vol­un­teers who are trained to speak with those who are strug­gling.

The con­fi­den­tial cri­sis help line phone num­bers are 978327-6607 and 866-912-4673. If some­one is in im­mi­nent risk, they should call 911.

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF SA­MAR­I­TANS OF MER­RI­MACK VAL­LEY

THERE FOR YOU: Deb­bie Helms, di­rec­tor of the Sa­mar­i­tans of Mer­ri­mack Val­ley, a pro­gram of Fam­ily Ser­vices of the Mer­ri­mack Val­ley, takes a call.

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