LACONIA — The Police Department, along with the Lakes Region Partnership for Public Health and Genesis Behavioral Health, with the Lakes Region, are taking part in an initiative to prevent suicide.
Lieutenant Richard Simmons told the Police Commission yesterday that the department is participating by means of a “Problem Oriented Policiing” or POP project in which he is joined by Lieutenant Al Graton, three patrol officers and a dispatcher. “This is very different from any of the other POP projects we’ve done,” Simmons said, explaining that other projects addressed problems in which the police are directly engaged.
The initiative is sponsored by the National Alliance on Mental Illness — NH (NAMI-NH) , as part of a statewide effort mounted in association with the State Suicide Prevention Council. Ken Norton, executive director of NAMI-NH, said that “we try to involve law enforcement right away,” noting that police officers are usually the first to respond to a suicide.
Simmons said that the first step his team took was to attend classes offered by NAMI-NH and undergo training on limiting access to lethal means. Then he said the officers partnered with Elaine deMello of NAMI-NH, David Bouchard of Genesis Behavioral Health, Tammy Levesque of the Lakes Region Partnership for Public Health and Father Marc Drouin, chaplain to the department.
Rather than focus on reducing suicides, Simmons said the group chose to inform the public of what role the police can play in a crisis arising from a threatened or successful suicide and, in particular, to dispel fear and apprehension of calling on the police in such situations. He said the team has developed a lesson plan and spoken with local employers and on radio as well as begun preparing pamphlets and a video, all designed to explain the services the police and its partners can provide. Simmons said that the police can secure lethal means, especially firearms, as well as safely transport individuals in crisis to an appropriate facility where they can receive professional help.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among those aged 10 to 24 in New Hampshire, with young men four times more likely to take their own lives than women, although women are more likely to attempt suicide. Norton noted that this is a group familiar to the police who are well placed to identify young men at risk at risk, particularly those wrestling with mental illness or substance abuse.
For nine of the last ten years, the number of suicides per 100,000 people in New Hampshire has exceeded the national average and the suicide rate in Belknap County of 15.2 per 100,000 was the fourth highest among the ten counties in the state.
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