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More Volunteers Sought to Combat State’s Highest Suicide Rate

March 1, 2012

BERLIN, N.H. - The latest numbers show Coos County is grappling with the highest suicide rate in the state, and steps are being taken to cope by training more suicide-prevention volunteers. Ron Pelchat, a volunteer trainer with the North Country Suicide Prevention Coalition, says about 500 volunteers have been trained in the past year. About a quarter of those are police, emergency workers and local schoolteachers. The rest, he says, are everyday folks from New Hampshire who now have the skills to recognize suicide warning signs.

Pelchat says that training could save the life of a family member, co-worker or friend.

"It makes you a better relative, a better friend, because for a four-hour training, now you come away with better understanding and a better opportunity to assist people who might be in need."

According to the New Hampshire 2010 Annual Suicide Prevention Report, Coos County had a 19 percent suicide rate, which is the highest in the state. Pelchat says it's also well above the national average of 12 percent.

Volunteer training sessions are scheduled for this month at Colebrook Academy and in April at White Mountains Community College.

Coos County is hardly alone, Pelchat says, because rural areas tend to have higher rates of suicide, particularly those that experience long winters.

"Rural areas all sort of have this common problem of very little to do, and the use of alcohol and/or other substances to sort of break up the monotony."

Pelchat says abrupt changes in behavior are one of the key warning signs suicide prevention volunteers watch for. He says the four hours it takes to train is a small price to pay to attain skills that can save a person's life.

More information about suicide prevention is available at www.naminh.org.

Mike Clifford, Public News Service - NH