CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - 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 at a news conference Monday 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, include 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.
"All these represent proactive responses to what was once shrouded in the silence born of stigma," he said. "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 experts didn't 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 just sent to stores a few weeks ago.
That project came about after three people killed themselves within a week just hours after purchasing guns. Though that cluster wasn't 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, described how the town of Moultonborough came together after six residents killed themselves in a single year several years ago. A coalition brought together the health, education and law enforcement communities to improve access to mental health care and to educate the public. The next step will be spreading the model to other towns, he said.
"This is not perfect, we've had suicides between now and then, but we work very hard at reaching out to people who are victims of suicide, to the survivors of suicide," he said. "I think it's important that we all say that this is all our responsibility. This is a time to reach out to our neighbors."
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