Special To The Herald
NEW BRITAIN - With nearly 45,000 people dying by suicide each year in the United States, Connecticut is striving towards becoming a leader in ensuring those struggling have an outpouring of resources and support within their community.
After the high-profile suicides of fashion icon Kate Spade and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, it was reported by the Center for Disease Control that the suicide rate in the U.S. has increased by 25 percent in less than two decades, making it the country’s 10th-leading cause of death.
Connecticut, although a state with one of the lowest suicide rates in the country, has seen a 3 percent increase over the past decade, an alarming rise according to experts.
Despite the climb, New Britain, along with Connecticut, has a wide range of resources to those struggling with suicide, particularly because of the college community located in the heart of the city.
A vulnerable population
Those most susceptible to suicide are college students (those ages 15 to 24), according to Kate Ayotte, director of suicide prevention at Central Connecticut State University.
“Our students are a more vulnerable population, around 1,100 college students annually die every year in the U.S.,” Ayotte said. “It’s the second leading cause of death within that age group, but that doesn’t mean that everyone in that age group is going to college.”
However, According to Ayotte, those who are attending college have a larger range of available resources due to the fact that most colleges, including CCSU, have a suicide prevention plan put in place.
“Here on campus, we refer students to the counseling. We have licensed counselors and it’s free and confidential for all students,” Ayotte said. “It’s a really great resource that appeals to a lot of our students because they don’t have to go through their insurance to see a counselor.”
Though teenagers and young adults are the most likely to take their own lives, other age groups are still more at risk. In 2016, the highest suicide rate was among adults between 45 and 54 years old.
No matter the age, Dr. Jonathan Pohl, CCSU’s coordinator of wellness education, said, there are often warning signs that cannot afford to be ignored.
“There are a number of them that people may end up missing because they may think it’s just something else going on instead of this person possibly feeling suicidal,” Pohl said.
Warning signs, according to Pohl, can include, but are not limited to, giving away personal possessions, extended depression, feelings of hopelessness, crying spells, excessive sleep or isolation.
“We do encourage people that if they see any of these signs that they check in with the person,” Pohl said. “These are typical things.”
Despite this, the most important thing a person can do, Pohl said, is asking the question “Are you thinking of suicide?” From there, Pohl said, a number of resources are available.
The Connecticut Chapter for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is hard at work striving to expand those resources, state area Director Michelle Peters explained.
“Our mission is to save lives and provide hope to people. The goal really is to be the premier organization for suicide prevention and connect our residents with the programming that we offer,” Peters said. “It goes back to awareness. It’s reaching out to organizations like us.”
In order to help combat suicide, Peters said that the best thing both Connecticut and local communities can do is host prevention talks provided by the AFSP free of charge.
A world of difference
“Have workshops for your employees, become educated,” Peters said. “It’s encouraging a culture in your community where it’s okay to talk about it.”
Above all, Peters emphasized that simply reaching out to someone could make a world of difference.
“Act as if you could be the only person asking someone how they’re doing today,” Peters said. “Suicide is a complex issue, it’s not just one thing or the other that might lead to someone having thoughts, however we (know) it can be prevented.”
Though the best way to help prevent suicide is by talking about it, Peter’s said, she knows that is not always possible.
In the country alone, there are an estimated 4.5 million suicide survivors, those who are left to deal with the immediate aftermath of a suicide. Survivors are four to five times more likely to attempt suicide than the average person.
“We have resources for loss survivors, information on how to take care of yourself, information on what to do after a loss and to connect people with other survivors through support groups and outreach programs,” Peters said.
For those searching for help in the New Britain community, Hop Brook provides counseling and psychiatric services with option ongoing medication management and support, according to licensed marriage and family counselor Kimberly O’Connor.
“Someone seeking help can visit our website… they can contact us through an email inquiry via our website or call us directly,” O’Connor said. “[We know that] preventing suicide is a very challenging, yet important topic, but our counselors are all fully licensed in the state to provide counseling services, and all have training in crisis intervention and assessing for suicidal behaviors.”
Hop Brook is able to offer a first appointment within a few days of a request, O’Connor said. Evening and weekend hours are also available.
When asked about preventing suicide in a local community, O’Connor, like Peter’s, said it is important to “break the stigma of mental health.”
“As a community and a society we need to have open dialogues about mental health,” O’Connor said. “We need to understand that reaching out for help doesn’t make someone weak.”
For those still looking to reach out, Allyson Nadeau at Beacon Health Options recommended becoming involved with the Connecticut Suicide Advisory Board.
“It is a wonderful coalition made up of healthcare programs, survivors, military representatives and state agencies,” Nadeau said. “It aims to eliminate suicide in Connecticut.”
And despite the fact that stories of suicide are often heart-wrenching, Ayotte said stories of wellness and recovery are just as crucial.
“We always hear these tragic stories, but I think stories of hope are just as equally important,” Ayotte said. “I think talking about it really helps, which society has started to do more of. Sometimes people are afraid to talk about it because it is such a tough subject, but you have to.”
Anyone struggling with thoughts of suicide is urged to call the Lifeline number, which is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at 1-800-273-8255.