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