Editor’s Note: Lance Metayer is a Team Leader for School-Based Clinical Services at Northwest Counseling & Support Services. He is also Vermont Care Partners’ Community FIRST Project Coordinator for Youth and Adult Mental Health First Aid trainings across the state. 

Suicide prevention is a topic that we often don’t think about until we are directly impacted by the loss of a loved one or a member of our community.  Even saying the word “suicide” can feel taboo and bring about feelings of shame or discomfort.  The truth is that there is a stigma that surrounds suicide which prevents individuals from addressing the topic. This stigma may make it difficult for us to recognize the warning signs of suicide or even ask the question: “Are you thinking about suicide?”

1 in 10 Vermont Youths Made a Suicide Plan; 7 Percent Attempted Suicide in 2019 Data

Every two years, Vermont schools participate in the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS). It provides self-reported data from middle and high school students for many different health and safety measures.  In 2019, YRBS data showed suicide to be a public health issue impacting many youths in Vermont.  Three in ten high school students in our state reported significant symptoms of depression, feeling sad or hopeless for at least two weeks in the past year.  One in ten Vermont students made a suicide plan in the past 12 months and seven percent of students made an attempt.  The risk increased at least four times if a student identified as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender or Questioning. Trends from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey show statistically significant increases in suicidal thoughts and behaviors among youth statewide over the last decade.

So the question is: how do we support youth in our community who are struggling with suicidal thoughts or feelings?  As community members we must work to break down the barriers that prevent us from talking about suicide.  We must understand how to recognize suicide warning signs, how to talk with a young person who is suicidal, and how to get help. 

Youth Mental Health First Aid Trains Community Members to Recognize Suicide, Take Action 

The Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA) training teaches community members how to help. The 6-hour virtual or in-person course trains adults how to recognize the warning signs of suicide, how to approach and talk to a young person who is in crisis or who is suicidal, and where to go to get professional help.  

In the last five years, through support from Vermont Care Partners and its network agencies and community partners, more than 3,000 Vermonters have taken the Youth Mental Health First Aid training. These are people who have made the commitment to support youth in their communities.  As a result of the training participants report they feel more confident and better equipped to support a young person who is in crisis or suicidal.  In addition to formalized training, community members can educate themselves about suicide warning signs and broaden their understanding of resources in their communities.  Vermont’s 2-1-1 system is a great place to start.  The National Suicide Prevention Line provides resources and information to recognize the warnings sings of suicide and provides links to professional support.  

Know Suicide Warning Sides and Know What to Do in a Crisis Situation

If you are concerned that a young person is displaying suicide warning signs, it is important to act immediately.  Do not leave the young person alone. Seek professional support. And remember that it is okay to ask the question: “Are you thinking about suicide?”  

 Suicide warning signs: 

  • Threatening to hurt or kill himself/herself.
  • Talking or writing about death, dying or suicide.
  • Having rage, anger or seeking revenge.
  • Withdrawing from friends, family or society.
  • Seeking access to pills, weapons or other means.
  • Expressing hopelessness, no reason for living or having no sense of purpose in life.
  • Feeling trapped.

Need to talk?

Call 2-1-1 (option #2) or 866-652-4636 (option #2) for free, confidential, one-on-one counseling. Our Support Counselors are available Monday – Friday. 

In crisis?

If you or someone you care for is experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm, you can: call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-825;  text VT to 741741 to connect with a Crisis Counselor 24/7; connect with your local community mental health agency for 24/7 support

Find Help

Find resources and tools for coping with stress at www.COVIDSupportVT.org. Follow COVID Support VT on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. And, to stay up-to-date, sign up for our newsletter and blog.

Learn about upcoming Wellness Workshops from COVID Support VT, and Town Halls we’re hosting in partnership with community organizations.

One-click translation to 100 languages of everything on the COVIDSupportVT.org website, plus Multilingual Resources & downloadable materials in 10 languages common to Vermont’s New American immigrant and refugee communities.

COVID Support VT is funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and Federal Emergency Management Agency, managed by Vermont’s Departments of Emergency Management and Mental Health, and administered by Vermont Care Partners, a statewide network of 16 non-profit community-based agencies providing mental health, substance use, and intellectual and developmental disability services and supports. 

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