State health officials fight to put an end to suicides



Staff Writer

Vermont health officials are working to raise awareness about a leading cause of death in the state, and one that can often be prevented - suicide.

In its 39th year, National Suicide Prevention Week aims to educate health professionals and the general public on how to recognize potential warning signs and to offer support to those who have attempted, or lost someone, to suicide.

The third leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24, according to the Center for Disease Control, suicide results in one death every hour and 48 minutes.

The Center for Health and Learning in Brattleboro is striving to combat youth suicide rates by helping to implement stronger mental health counseling services at middle and high schools across Vermont.

Using part of a three-year $1.5 million federal grant, awarded to them by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Garrett Lee Smith Suicide Prevention Program, CHL has trained teachers and staff at over 75 Vermont schools with their UMatter Suicide Prevention curriculum.

The nonprofit is also reaching out to college communities on 13 different Vermont campuses between now and Sept. 2015, at which point the grant will end.

"Our goal is to have one hundred percent of Vermont schools receive the training," said Nicole Miller, mental health program specialist at CHL.

Ranked 12th in the U.S. among the states, Vermont’s suicide rate is nearly three times higher than the national average as of 2010, the latest year for which national statistics are available according to the American Association of Suicidology.

"By teaching the warning signs and risk factors, administrators are then able to effectively write protocols for how to prevent suicide and support their school communities," said Miller.

This fall CHL will offer four training program sessions, available throughout the state. Schools can sign up for the two-day program, which provides a team of four people from each school with in-depth training on how to recognize risk factors and help prevent youth suicide.

UMatter seeks to educate youth that everyone has a role in preventing suicide, and that peers are an integral part of saving teens from falling into depression or other troubles that can lead to suicidal thoughts, as they are likely more in touch with how their friends are feeling.

"With teenagers there are so many different signs to watch out for, but any change in behavior indicates that something may be going on," said Anne Martis, a member of the Vermont Youth Suicide Prevention Coalition.

"Teenagers don’t always give direct answers, you have to ask questions and get them to talk," said Martis, who is also the suicide prevention coordinator at the White River Junction VA Medical Hospital, where she works with veterans of all ages.

Drug abuse among younger veterans can lead to suicidal thinking, making them an at-risk group, said Martis, although veterans who are 60 and over are generally more at-risk when drugs do not play a role.

"Most people don’t want to die," said Martis. "They just want to end the pain that they’re going through, whether it’s physical pain or emotional. We try to address the problems that make them feel hopeless."

A community outpatient clinic for veterans of all ages is located at 186 North St., Bennington; open Monday to Friday 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. For more information call 802-447-6913.

If you are in crisis call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). For more information on suicide warning signs and risk factors visit, or

For training information on suicide risk factors, warning signs and prevention, email or visit For more information about UMatter programs visit or

Contact Khynna Kuprian at Follow her on Twitter @khynnakat.


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