Let’s talk about mental health

The issue of suicide has come front and center recently in the Jaffrey-Rindge School District, as guidance counselors review their policies for dealing with “self-harm” behaviors and other mental-health signs. And more people, it seems, are opening up about the societal problem.

Last week, we reported on a School Board meeting where Conant High School Guidance Counselor Charles Langille presented updates in the district policy concerning response protocols for dealing with signs that a student may be intending to harm him- or herself. School Board Chair Daniel Whitney aptly pointed out, “Everyone likes to think this happens everywhere, but here. But it happens in the 532-, it happens in the 899- and it happens in the 924-. We have two options. We can be proactive or reactive, and reactive is far too late.”

The N.H. Suicide Prevention Council’s 2013 annual report states that suicide is the second leading cause of death in New Hampshire for those ages 15 to 34. Conant High School dealt with 12 incidents during the 2012-2013 school year that involved students who were reportedly struggling with potential suicidal thoughts and/or behaviors. And sadly that is only slightly below the state average for a high school of Conant’s size.

The problem is in detecting the signs, but we think the more people are willing to talk about the issue, the more prevention efforts will work. And so we would like to take this opportunity to thank the brave folks who have opened up about it in the last year or so, talking with our reporters.

In this issue, Francestown resident Cher Barker tell us about the memorial fund she started in her daughter Stephanie Joy Barker’s name. Stephanie took her own life in May 2013 at the age of 27. The lanterns are not only raising money to help a cause that was dear to Stephanie’s heart, Volunteer Kenya, but also spreading awareness about mental health issues. As Barker says, “Our whole society needs to deal with these things more openly.”

It used to be that people didn’t talk about suicides, many even paid coroners to change the cause of death so that surviving family members would not have to bare the shame. But what price has society paid in not talking about it is the question we need to ask ourselves. Wouldn’t we all be better off if we had a shared understanding of what to look for when someone appears to be struggling with depression?

Suicide isn’t an easy thing to talk about, we don’t deny that. And for some people, the need for privacy understandably outweighs all else. But we hope the trend in more openness about suicide will continue.

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