Counseling service offers advice on suicide prevention


BENNINGTON -- Fear is what stops people from getting help when they suspect someone is suicidal.

"Don't be afraid to ask them directly," said Michelle Burnham, licensed clinician and mental health counselor for the United Counseling Service's Child and Family Clinical Services. "Asking the direct question isn't going to cause them to be more suicidal."

Burnham said there are a number of "red flags" which should cause an immediate response. If a person has been expressing feelings of hopelessness then suddenly seems euphoric or at peace, this can be a sign they are preparing to commit suicide. Giving away their possessions, making no plans for the immediate future, and using phrases like, "I can't take it anymore," or actually saying they wish to die are major signs there is a problem, according to Burnham.

She said the United Counseling Service's family emergency number is 802-442-1700. Those who call that number may seek help with a number of issues facing people younger than 22, including suicide.

For after-hours emergencies UCS has a Emergency Service and Crisis Center which can be reached at anytime at 802-442-5491.

Burnham said if a parent thinks their child is a danger to themself, the parent can contact UCS, which will perform an immediate assessment. A team of up to two counselors will go to the home, or the family can come to UCS, and determine the level of risk. After that, a number of things may happen. Burnham said a plan or "contract for safety" is created for the individual. It may require that they not be alone, avoid certain things, or have certain items removed from the home. Burnham said the contract is made between the person and someone in their life they can trust to hold them accountable to it.

If that is not enough, a stay at a "shelter bed" can be arranged. Burnham said there are homes in the community where people can stay for up to two weeks if the environment in which they reside is making them unsafe. Hospitalization is also an option, said Anna Mattison, interim manager for the Emergency Service and Crisis Center. She said if a bed can not be found at the Vermont State Hospital, then a person needing that level of care may stay in a hospital emergency room. It's not an ideal situation, but a person in that level of crisis would not be turned away.

Burnham said people who have no legal guardianship over a person they think is at risk of suicide can also call UCS and say there is a problem. She said her group can try to contact that person, or if the case is severe enough they can call police and have them conduct a welfare check.

She said she would not speak about any specific cases, claiming that media reports of suicides can encourage others thinking about it to follow through.

The Burlington television station, WCAX, also reported the incident and quoted Charlotte McCorkel, of Howard Center First Call, a Chittenden County-based hotline "for young people in crisis," who appeared to dispute that general claim.

It was reported Wednesday that Bennington Police were investigating the death of a 12-year-old Mount Anthony Union Middle School student. A letter from Principal Tim Payne went out to parents saying the girl's death was from suicide and that crisis teams were on hand at the school to support students and staff.

Contact Keith Whitcomb Jr. at or follow him on Twitter @KWhitcombjr.


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