Stratton Foundation hosts suicide awareness training

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MANCHESTER -- The death of a 15-year-old from Massachusetts earlier this year has sparked an suicide prevention outreach in effort in the communities he visited with his family as a young skier.

The UMATTER event on Monday evening was presented by the Center for Health and Learning (CHL), and hosted and sponsored by the Stratton Foundation memorial fund for Nathan M. Carreira of Ludlow, Mass., who took his life in March. The Carreira family, owns a second home in the area and frequented Stratton Mountain. His parents, Karen and Michael Carreira, participated in the training held at the Manchester Community Library.

In late spring, the Stratton Foundation received donations in honor of Carreira. This led the organization to fill gaps in the community by addressing how to communicate about suicide through a training with the public, as well as Burr and Burton Academy staff and faculty.

"The outpouring of donations was incredible," said Stratton Foundation executive director Tammy Mosher. "We wanted to do something immediate so we reached out to Burr and Burton Academy and they referred us to UMATTER."

During the two-hour program. Debby Haskins, program specialist and Julia Hampton, health program specialist at CHL, went through ways to recognize risk factors, warning signs and protective factors in youth, steps to help a suicidal person and suggestions on how to communicate along with available resources.

"A gatekeeper is someone who knows the signs and the symptoms," Haskins said. "What you need is someone who's going to listen to you and can get you help. I'm not just talking about kids. I'm talking about young adults, adults our age. I'm talking about the people we work with."

"All of this is hard, but I think we're here for a reason," Karen Carreira said. "Even if we touch one person tonight, it could snowball into other things. The gatekeeper. I'm sitting here thinking .. I did. ... But it wasn't enough. There's a responsibility. I hope the message is that everybody has a role in protecting and supporting and guiding kids, people, whoever is having a hard time."

One exercise exemplified the fact that suicide is glamorized or not taken seriously in literature or media due to word selection. Haskins and Hampton emphasized the weight of the word "committed" next to the word "suicide."

"It's typically used negatively," Haskins said. "It makes a difference using sensitive language. It's about the pain that's caused and the retraumatization."

Alternative terms to use include "death by suicide," "suicide death," or "took her/his own life."

Amanda North attended the training with her 15-year-old daughter, who chose to participate. North, who recently lost a family member to suicide, said she wanted to learn something that didn't revolve around the question of "why?"

"I'm just trying to enlighten us all," North said. "As a parent I just want my daughter to know there are resources out there and I needed to learn myself.. Anytime you hear of another family whose child has taken their life, you want to support them, even if I don't know [the Carreiras]."

Other teens also attended with their parent.

Since 2006 the suicide rate has increased across the nation steadily, with Vermont's rate 30 percent more than the national rate. Haskins said the Vermont average is high due to guns, and the use of opioids and marijuana.

"There are many factors and one is the fact that we have more guns per capita - lethal means," Haskins said. "So Massachusetts instituted gun safe laws education around it and they changed their suicide numbers right away. The second factor is substance abuse. Our kids are the highest in the nation for marijuana use. There's a correlation between daily marijuana use and psychosis. We also have a high opiate use. There are studies coming out about the correlation between opiate use and suicide."

In 2016 there were 118 deaths by suicide in Vermont; it's the eighth leading cause of death and the second-leading cause for youth age 15 to 24, according to the American Association of Suicidology. In a Youth Risk Behavior Survey taken by high school students, 25 percent of respondents across the state admitted to feeling depressed or sad for a span of two weeks, which is a clinical sign of depression, according to Hampton. Mental health issues are a risk factor for suicide.

"These statistics really highlight for us that it's really important to know what the risk factors are and what the warning signs are so that we can be part of the solution," Hampton said.

Haskins and Hampton also trained Burr and Burton Academy faculty on Tuesday morning.

The Stratton Foundation has provided families with basic necessities such as dental care, food, and shelter. Visit strattonfoundation.org for more information. For the Vermont crisis hotline text VT to 741741.


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