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State conference recognizes strides in suicide prevention

November 16, 2010
LINCOLN- The 7th Annual New Hampshire Suicide Prevention Conference brought over 200 health care providers, law enforcement officials, parents, and people who have suffered the loss of someone from suicide to Loon Mountain last week to discuss how to improve suicide prevention across the state.

"Today's event is really a collaboration of every organization and individual who have come together because they care about suicide prevention," said Facilitator Jo Moncher, of the Suicide Prevention Council which, along with the Youth Suicide Prevention Assembly and National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) NH's Connect Project, organized the event.

Moncher opened the conference with a commendation of the efforts of those people in the room and across the state who work to make New Hampshire one of the foremost leaders in suicide prevention policy.

The state has just released its annual State Suicide Prevention Annual Report to accompany its State Suicide Prevention Plan. While it was originally just given to family members of a suicide victim, the survivor's packet has also been made available to others who have known someone who died by suicide. Additionally, an informational video educating gun-sellers on the warning signs of suicide is also in the works.

One of the keynote speakers of the event was Dr. Phil Rodgers, an Evaluation Scientist for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. For the past seven years, he has managed the Best Practices Registry (BPR) for Suicide Prevention a listing of suicide prevention resources reviewed and approved by at least three experts in the field.

"From the very beginning of working in the field, I heard about the wonderful things going on in New Hampshire," said Rodgers.

The community of people that sat in the conference room at Loon listening to Rodger's address was evidence of that fact.

"Our state is truly recognized for thinking out of the box and trying new things," said Moncher.

Out-of-the-box thinking led to the less traditional presentation of the day: The New Faces of America, a one-woman show depicting the diversity of the country. The hour long performance was particularly relevant to the subject matter in relation to a comment Rodger made:

"Suicide is a very idiosyncratic behavior. No two people come to suicide from the same path," said Rodgers.

The performance brought to life six characters were all based on actual peoples' stories each diverse in their background, yet united in their American identity and the struggles that come with it:

The son of illegal aliens, a Latino boy who grows up to be accepted to Brown University, only to discover the uncle who raised him has been blinded by a beating delivered at the hands of vigilantes.

A gay pastor in the south who struggles to deal with his sexuality when his beliefs forbid it. Can a gay man or woman have a place in America today, the pastor asks himself and his religion.

The daughter of an inter-racial couple a black mother, a white father. Abandoned by both sides of their family, the young woman and her parents struggle to find a place.

A Native American woman angry at the hopeless society she feels trapped in tries to deal with the suicide of her sister. Native American children are three times more likely to die by suicide than any other group, she said, often feeling trapped by the crime, violence, and drugs of the reservations areas that goes largely unmonitored by law enforcement.

An Appalachian, originally too ashamed of her background to tell her friends at college where she is from because of the stereotypes associated with Appalachia. Cracker. Hick. Redneck. The only group you can get away with insulting publicly, the girl said, such as in the popular Jeff Foxworthy, "You might be a redneck, if..." routine.

A Korean American woman who loses her legs in Iraq. She receives a Purple Heart for her wound, but loses a lot in what she deems "a war of disability."

The show earned a standing ovation from the crowd. The production is one of biochemist-turned-playwright Colin Cox's works, who was present for the production to answer questions about his work.

"The characters, the hearts of the stories are people I met," said Cox who has interviewed people across the country to create the 23 characters in his various plays, dubbed "edu-tainment" by one reviewer. Some characters may be an amalgamation of many peoples' stories, but they are all true.

"These are real people," said Cox. "They really do exist."

Cox was eager to take suggestions for characters those gathered felt should be depicted. Suggestions for characters included: an autistic person, a transgender person, someone suffering from mental illness, a white male, and an adopted or foster child.

The play has been performed at colleges, school, police academies, corporate trainings, and more across the country. Cox and actress Carolyn Zeller, who brings all the characters to life, have been in 25 states in the last three months.

"My understanding of humanity has changed," said Zeller of her experience acting in the play.

Art is only one of the many outlets for people who are struggling with adversity, depression, or suicidal thoughts.

Becky McEnany works through NAMI's Connect Project in the North Country, which aims to train professional and community members to prevent and respond to suicide.

Local resources include the 1-800-273-TALK is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The lifeline is a national network, but rings in Lebanon for North Country callers, so callers can talk to someone more local.

NAMI identifies signs of depression and suicide risk as: a change in personality, behavior, sleep patterns, or eating habits; a loss of interest in friends, hobbies, sex, or activities previously enjoyed; worry about money or illness; fear of losing control or "going crazy;" feelings of overwhelming guilt, shame, or self-hatred; no hope for the future; drug or alcohol abuse; recent loss of a loved one through death, divorce, separation, a broken relationship or loss of job, money, status, or self-esteem; loss of religious faith; nightmares; suicidal impulses, statements, or plans; previous suicide attempts or gestures; or agitation, hyperactivity, or restlessness that may be masking depression.

NAMI says not to be afraid to ask, "Do you sometimes feel so bad, you think of suicide?" If they answer affirmatively, take it seriously.

Moncher concluded her opening remarks on Friday with an affirmation of the efforts the state is making to prevent suicide, and a call to arms to continue the work.

"Our state is really doing some remarkable things and we're being recognized at many levels but we have miles to go," said Moncher.

Martin Lord Osman
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