September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and I would like to take a moment to address this tragic reality. In Connecticut alone, someone dies by suicide every 22 hours. Often people don’t get the mental health support that they need because they don’t know where to start. Mental health problems are common, but help is available.
Suicidal thoughts can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender or background. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention shows that in Connecticut, suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people ages 15 to 34 and the fourth leading cause of death for those ages 35 to 54. In many cases, friends and families affected by suicide are left in the dark, feeling shame or operating under the stigma that prevents people from talking openly about the issue of suicide.
Suicide rates are on the rise across the United States, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Connecticut, rates of this cause of death have climbed between over 19 percent from 1999 to 2016, and it is now being labeled as a major public health issue.
Here at Middlesex United Way, we help support the 2-1-1 hotline, which is only a phone call or click away, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The line serves as the access point for Emergency Mobile Psychiatric Services, a 24/7 crisis intervention service for youth up to age 18. Callers are connected to a crisis specialist who connects them to a local mobile crisis provider who gathers information in order to dispatch a trained mental health clinician to the location of the child/youth, arriving no more than 45 minutes.
Services are confidential, and there is no cost to the caller. Connecticut 2-1-1 also offers a database of local services and help, including mental health evaluations, adolescent/youth counseling and psychiatric mobile response teams for youth and adults.
Donations to the Middlesex United Way help support mental health services at several local agencies, including Child & Family Agency of Southeastern CT, which offers child and family mental health services; The Connection’s Counseling Center, Gilead Community Services, Women & Families Center’s Sexual Assault Crisis Services, which you can reach via a 24-hour emergency hotline at 888-999-5545; and Rushford’s Mental Health First Aid program, which trains people to identify, understand, and respond to signs of mental illnesses and substance use disorders.
Last year, over 2,000 local people received mental health and substance abuse services through Middlesex United Way-funded programs, in addition to the calls answered by 2-1-1.
Suicide is preventable. If you are in a life- threatening situation, dial 9-1-1. If you are in crisis, dial 2-1-1 in Connecticut. If you or a loved one is having a crisis and is outside of Connecticut, call at 800-273-TALK (8255) for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. To learn more about mental health crisis intervention services in Connecticut, visit uwc.211ct.org/categorysearch/mental-health.
Kevin Wilhelm is president and CEO of the Middlesex United Way in Middletown