Granite State gets suicide prevention funds

September 19, 2009

PORTSMOUTH - A statewide organization has received $1.5 million in federal funding that could bolster ongoing collaborative efforts in the Portsmouth area to raise awareness of and to curb suicide.

Suicide prevention advocates say ongoing efforts to prevent suicide in Portsmouth - including the placement of signs on area bridges - are working with the additional federal funds aimed at safeguarding target populations across the Granite State including everyone from veterans to gay populations and those struggling with substance abuse.

On Tuesday U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-Madbury, announced the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) will receive $1,497,015 in funding over three years for "Connect" - a nationally-recognized program that provides suicide prevention training and support services to communities throughout the state.

The announcement comes during a time when a local and state funded Seacoast Suicide Prevention Coalition continues to work together to educate individuals and curb suicide in the Portsmouth region.

Elaine de Mello - the supervisor of training and prevention services for NAMI - said the federal funds will not go directly toward the local Portsmouth coalitions ongoing efforts, but will bolster training and services provided to targeted groups with some of them being in a Seacoast community that has been working hard to address the issue.

"It will benefit the entire state. Some of the initiatives from Seacoast that aren't covered from state and local funds will benefit from these (federal funds)," de Mello said.

NAMI has been working with law enforcement departments, mental health care providers, family counseling groups and other organizations in the Seacoast to help bring together a cohesive group dedicated to curbing suicide.

Late last year a group of stakeholders created the Seacoast Suicide Prevention Coalition after a number of high-profile suicides raised the concern of people like Reverend Angelo Pappas of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church.

Pappas - the chaplain for the Portsmouth police and fire departments - helped spearhead efforts to create a group dedicated to taking a hard look at the issue of suicide in the Portsmouth area and NAMI has provided support.

De Mello said the group has already made strides in helping curb suicide with training and an effort that saw suicide prevention signs being posted on area bridges that provide a "help line" number for those considering taking their lives.

She said the numbers on the signs have been ringing and making a difference.

"They had several calls right from the bridge so that is phenomenal. That is people calling at the very point they were thinking of jumping," de Mello said.

The recently announced federal funding will help support a Connect program aimed at training 600 people annually for each of the next three years in preventing suicide.

"This proposal is built on the belief that it takes a community to prevent suicide," said Michael J. Cohen, executive director of NAMI New Hampshire.

"Through this grant NAMI NH will lead public and private providers and community coalitions in increasing public awareness of suicide prevention and improving access to mental health care," Cohen added.

The money and program will target specific populations to reduce the risk of suicide.

NAMI organizers say target groups will include veterans and National Guard members; gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender populations; youth in foster care; and those with substance abuse addictions.

De Mello said the federal funding could help target the above mentioned populations living in the Seacoast area.

Members of the Seacoast Suicide Prevention Coalition were slated to meet today at the Portsmouth Public Library for a "kick-off" event that will provide ongoing training aimed at building a community approach to prevent suicide and deal with them as they occur.

A benefit walk to raise further awareness about suicide and survivors will be held later this month in Portsmouth.

By:  Geoff Cunningham Jr.
Source: Foster’s Daily Democrat