Study: New London, Groton have lower teen suicide attempt rates

In a recently created map of teenage suicide attempts and mortality rates, Groton and New London stand out.

Of the 119 school districts University of Connecticut researchers analyzed in a study published in May, the two communities were among just four that had lower-than-expected rates.

The researchers began with data from two state entities — the medical examiner and the Connecticut Hospital Inpatient Discharge Database — that covered the years of 2010 through 2014.

Once they separated it by school district, they used statistical analysis to make the districts comparable. In other words, they controlled for characteristics such as income, academic performance and racial makeup — factors known to influence suicide rates that are easily obtainable from U.S. Census data.

Researcher Robert Aseltine Jr. said he doesn’t yet know enough to say why the districts in New London, Groton, Windham and Region 19 performed well, relatively speaking.

But Andrea Duarte, suicide prevention manager at the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, wagered a guess.

“Community and a sense of connectedness is an extremely strong protective factor for many things — not just suicide,” she said.

Windham and Region 19, which includes the towns of Ashford, Mansfield and Willington, may benefit from UConn’s reach, Duarte said. In New London and Groton, military is a common thread.

“Connectedness is a very difficult thing to measure,” Duarte said, “but I think we can’t underestimate the value of it.”

A grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s Garrett Lee Smith program made Aseltine and his colleagues’ work possible. But DMHAS inspired it.

The DMHAS team, Duarte said, has long worked with the researchers at UConn. Typically, staff at DMHAS will ask the academics whether it’s possible to use data to learn a particular thing.

In this case, the answer was yes.

“We’re trying to determine, with a data-driven approach, where we should prioritize our limited resources,” Duarte explained.

It’s the first time Connecticut has looked at both suicides and suicide attempts and mapped the results. What stood out to professionals at DMHAS and UConn was that areas in close proximity — take Groton and New London, for example — often shared suicide attempt/mortality rates.

But the map is just one piece of a statewide plan regarding the prevention of suicide.

For months, UConn researchers have been collecting information from every community in Connecticut to see what prevention systems are in place. They’re hoping to learn what’s missing in the towns with high rates — and what’s working in the towns where rates are low.

The goal of the needs assessment, which Aseltine said should finish up in the fall, is to change the way communities go about suicide prevention. Even though death by suicide is “an enormous problem” among youth — suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15- to 24-year-olds — it’s still rare enough that many communities can go years without it happening, he said.

If communities only enact prevention efforts after experiencing a death by suicide, Aseltine said, those efforts will be haphazard and expensive.

“Postvention, or prevention efforts following a suicide, requires more resources, as opposed to prevention, which can be done efficiently and hopefully result in lives saved,” Aseltine said.

The number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK, or 8255. For more information, visit www.preventsuicidect.org.

l.boyle@theday.com 

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