An increase in successful suicide attempts in 2013 has community members concerned and looking for resources to help those in crisis.
The Duxbury Police Department conducted a five- year study on suicide rates from 2008 through 2013. Two deaths were ruled suicides in 2008, one in 2009, one in 2010, two in 2011 and two in 2012. So far in 2013, five deaths have been determined suicides.
With the oldest recorded death at 94-years-old and the youngest at 21-years-old, the mean age for suicide over those five years was 51. In addition to the deaths, there were another four suicide attempts in the five-year period that nearly resulted in death. There are many additional incidents where threats or actual at- tempts without serious injury occurred during that period.
Duxbury Lieutenant Lewis Chubb conducted the five-year study of the successful suicides and stressed the fact that the data pool is very small.
“Fortunately, we do not have 100 suicides a year, so one or two a year makes a dif- ference,” he said.
While calculating the data, Lt. Chubb took into consideration incidents that had been marked as attempted suicides and, depending on the seriousness of the incident, it was included or not included in the list of attempted suicides.
“If we add the attempted suicides to the list, we are looking at a total of four in 2010 and three in 2011,” he said. “It doesn’t really change the numbers except that if you consider the attempts now we are only talking a differential of one compared to 2013.”
In Massachusetts, the sui- cide rate increased from 503 statewide in 2008 to 600 in 2010. The most recent data from the Massachusetts De- partment of Health recorded the suicide rate at 553 in 2012. From 2003 to 2011, almost 4,500 people died of suicide in Massachusetts. Most suicides occur among individuals ages 35-54.
For students, the school district has a number of people in place to help in all stages of crisis. At the middle and high schools, guidance counselors are typically made aware of a situation when a student comes into the office and expresses a feeling of hopelessness or suicidal thoughts. Sometimes, a student will come in to alert counselors of a friend who may be in crisis.
Lisa Dembowksi, Guidance Coordinator for the Duxbury schools, said the protocol at the school is to invite any student into the guidance office to talk with a counselor. The school psychologist or school adjustment counselor then takes a quick risk assessment of the student to determine the level of crisis.
For example, they determine whether the student may have a plan in place, need an immediate evaluation, or need to set up an appointment with a counselor or professional therapist. Parents are then called and informed of the situation. If the student is in need of immediate evaluation, the parent
is asked to pick the student up from school and bring him or her to the hospital. If a parent cannot come to pick up the student, the Plymouth Crisis Intervention Team comes to the school to do an in-depth risk assessment.
“We always err on the side of caution,” Dembowski said. “There is never a time when we don’t call a parent or don’t recommend the student see someone professionally.”
The guidance department is open for students throughout the school day and any information shared with counselors is kept confidential, unless the risk assessment shows immediate need for an evaluation, in which case a parent is called and given the information.
In the past, the schools have invited Students Against Destructive Decisions (SADD), an organization that aims to provide students with tools to deal with harmful decisions, to come and give a presentation. The schools have also held a suicide prevention program but haven’t done a formal program for some time. The topics of depression and mental health are discussed in advisory and health classes, but are not full units in the curriculum.
Dembowski said the schools are working on improving the online resources on the guidance Web site. The schools typically only contact the police department if an actual attempt has been made, which has not happened in the 10 years since Dembowksi has been working at the schools.
School Resource Officer Friend Weiler works closely with the Guidance Department at the schools to help educate students on risk factors associated with depression and suicide.
“It’s a really dangerous, scary thing because only the person who is having these feelings knows what is going on inside their head,” Weiler said. “It’s important to provide services to let them talk through it and prevent it.”
Weiler said there is not currently an education program or group in the public schools and the actions taken are typically reactive.
“We would like to put some programs into place that would be more proactive and would encourage discussions on the topic,” he said. “I’d like for us to be able to work through some of the negative connotations surrounding mental illness because many times when someone makes an attempt or has suicidal ideations, there is some shame associated with it and they don’t want to bring it up in open conversation.”
Local cognitive-behavioral psychologist Jean McCutcheon said in her training she has discovered an important thing to remember is that there is no category of person who is considered suicidal.
“This is why having a conversation about ‘why’ is so difficult,” she said. “These feelings and ideations affect all walks of life, all races, all genders. Something happens and a person turns it into something larger than it needs to be and it all starts spiraling out of control.”
McCutcheon, whose clientele does not include a large number of suicide or depression-related cases but who has studied suicide prevention, said a major factor in leading to suicidal thoughts is a lack of skills. That is, being mindful of the situation, being able to stop and give pause to what the thought is that is spinning out of control and being aware of thoughts and feelings.
“One of the largest things with depression and suicide is a feeling of isolation,” she said. “People who feel isolated are at a higher risk of suicide than people who know how to use the resources around them.”
Resources include the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, the Samaritans Statewide Hotline, Veterans’ Suicide Hotline, Elder Health Resources and the Trevor Hotline, which is specifically designed for lesbian, gay, bi- sexual or transgender youth and young adults.
Suicide risk factors include disturbed sleep patterns, anxiety, agitation, pulling away from friends and family, extremely self-hating thoughts, hopelessness, rage, increased
use of drugs or alcohol, loss of interest in favorite activities, risk-taking behavior, suicidal plans or past attempts.
McCutcheon said it is important for people to know the signs because, “you don’t know until you know.”
“My biggest piece of advice is to not ignore any verbal message about taking one’s life,” she said.
There are many ways to help someone who you suspect is suicidal or having suicidal ideations. Engage the person at risk in a personable way, by using eye contact and
remaining focused on the person. Identify whether the per- son is currently thinking about suicide. As you learn more about their thoughts and feelings, you may get more clues as to what they are thinking. Explore the situation from the person’s point of view by encouraging them to express their thoughts and feelings.
If you or someone you know is in need of immediate help, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). This is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline and is free and available 24 hours a day to those in emotional distress or suicidal crisis.