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N.H. suicide rate spurs outreach

Statewide efforts try to stem the rise

By Holly Ramer
Associated Press / September 13, 2011

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CONCORD, N.H. - Faced with a rising suicide rate, New Hampshire is working with public, private, and community partners on a range of initiatives targeting gun shop customers, members of the military, and, in some cases, individual towns.

There were 206 suicides in the state last year, up from 159 in 2009. So far this year, 142 people have died by suicide, putting the state on track to top last year’s total, Dr. Thomas Andrew said yesterday at a press conference organized by the New Hampshire Suicide Prevention Council.

Those figures put New Hampshire in about the middle when compared to other states, said Andrew, the state’s chief medical examiner, though the latest national data runs only through 2007. While firearms are involved in most suicides, the percentage involving drug overdoses has been rising steadily over the past few years, he said.

Despite the increase, Andrews said he remains optimistic, given the wide range of efforts focused on suicide prevention, including the creation of a suicide fatality review committee that last year began analyzing the circumstances of each death to identify trends and make recommendations on how to avoid similar occurrences.

“We’re confident that this [committee], in concert with the work already being done in the trenches, will bear the priceless fruit of lives saved,’’ he said.

The specialists did not offer any explanations about why the number of suicides is going up.

In recent years, New Hampshire has expanded mental health services available to members of the National Guard to include treatment and support before, during, and after deployment. The initiative aimed at gun shop owners and customers is newer: posters outlining suicide risk factors were sent to stores just a few weeks ago.

That project began after three people killed themselves within a week just hours after purchasing guns. Though that cluster was not the norm, officials estimate that in about 10 percent of the state’s suicides that involve guns, the gun was purchased within a week of the death.

A third project focuses on an entire town. Peter Whelley, a school psychologist, told how the town of Moultonborough came together after six residents killed themselves in a single year. . A coalition brought together the health, education, and law enforcement communities to improve access to mental health care and educate the public.