I love living in Vermont, a state often touted as one of the healthiest in the country and a great place to raise children. I feel thankful to live here when I see a stunning lake view on my way to work, feel a strong sense of community at the farmer’s market, and take advantage of delicious local cuisine.
In great contrast to these assets, Vermont has one of the highest suicide rates in the country and the highest suicide rate in the Northeast. This is deeply troubling. The high rate is attributed to a number of factors, including our aging population (a high risk group), isolation in our mostly rural state, and the prevalence of firearms.
The problem of suicide can feel overwhelming because there is not a clear understanding why some people turn to suicide, and often there is not an easy solution to resolve a suicide crisis. Still, there are steps that we can all take to reverse this concerning trend.
Gaining awareness of risk factors associated with suicide may mean that you are better able to help someone at a critical time. The many risk factors include mental illness, most frequently depression; a chronic health condition or physical pain; knowing someone who has attempted or died by suicide; social isolation or a feeling of disconnection; and access to firearms.
To help reduce risk, you could reach out to a friend, colleague, neighbor, or loved one to let them know you care. Encourage others to ask for help when needed (and model this yourself). Safely store firearms and all medications in your home so that young people and those at risk have no access, and talk with your family (including children and teens) about what they can do if they are worried about a friend or someone else in crisis.
Research shows that talking about suicide prevention or asking someone if he or she is having suicidal thoughts does NOT give someone the idea. Instead, it may provide relief that the topic can be discussed and reassurance that you can handle the conversation. There is no script to follow, but if someone is suicidal, you should stay with them at all times until you connect to a professional who can help.
We are fortunate that there are many avenues for help in Vermont. When there are early signs that someone may be struggling or experiencing symptoms of a mental illness, they should connect with their primary care doctor or a mental health professional such as a therapist as soon as possible. It can be hard to admit that there is a problem and to ask for help, but there are many options that offer treatment and intervention—day or night—before a crisis occurs:
• Howard Center First Call for Chittenden County: 488-7777 (Local)
• Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255 (National)
• Crisis Text Line: 741741 (National)
• If someone is in immediate danger, call 9-1-1 or bring them to the Emergency Department.
While feelings of hopelessness and helplessness can be overwhelming, showing people that they matter, connecting them to ongoing professional support, and helping build hope, even in small ways, can be the difference between life and death. I hold on to the belief that suicide is preventable and know that there are steps we can all take to make a difference.
Charlotte McCorkel, LICSW
Project Director of Integration, Howard Center