PETERBOROUGH — In the wake of a middle school student’s death by suicide this fall in their district, students at ConVal Regional High School are working to break the silence surrounding the issue.
Through several student-led events and programs, Cruz Dellasanta, 17; Hannah Doherty, 18; Callie Boisvert, 14; Abbey Shumway, 14; and Catrina Kipka, 17, are starting conversations on suicide and mental health.
“It’s a really hard topic to actually get comfortable with, and we’ve put this stigma on mental health like it’s something to be ashamed of,” Doherty said. “It’s really important for kids who are younger than us to grow up in a community where it’s accepted and it’s OK to ask for help.”
Suicide is the eighth leading cause of death in New Hampshire, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reports, and the second leading cause of death for people ages 15 to 34. A total of 276 suicides were recorded in the state in 2018, according to data from the N.H. Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
This marks the highest annual number of suicides in New Hampshire since 2009, the start of the data the office provided to The Sentinel. Of those last year, 16 happened in Cheshire County.
Besides the ConVal district death, in October, a Conant High School student died from what police described at the time as an apparently self-inflicted injury.
When asked by a reporter Wednesday if this remains police’s assessment, Jaffrey Sgt. Christopher LaBrecque said the student’s death is still under investigation.
A thousand tulips
At ConVal, Doherty and Dellasanta started a hope garden last month by getting faculty, students and community members to plant 1,000 yellow tulip bulbs.
The garden is part of the Yellow Tulip Project — started in Maine in 2016 — which aims to provide a space for conversations about mental health. The yellow tulip represents happiness, according to the project’s website, and serves as a reminder that even in the darkest places, there is always hope.
Doherty and Dellasanta plan to put a plaque in front of the garden in the spring, explaining its meaning and listing national suicide-prevention resources, such as the suicide hotline.
Once the tulips bloom, the pair also plan on hosting an assembly, alongside the other students working on this issue, with hopes it becomes a tradition at ConVal.
“It’s an annual reminder that things are going to get better,” Doherty said.
In a separate project, Boisvert and Shumway held a 5k race, raffle and bake sale at the Peterborough high school last Sunday.
While recognizing the need to bring awareness to suicide, the girls also noticed a gap in mental-health services statewide. To help, they donated the money raised during the event — about $1,500 — to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, which has only one Granite State chapter in Nashua.
“There’s almost no resources in New Hampshire for that foundation, so we wanted to donate to them specifically,” Shumway said.
Others are focusing on the causes of suicide, such as bullying.
Using funding in the school’s budget, Kipka was able to arrange for motivational speaker James Orrigo, who discusses the power of kindness and helping others, to speak at a school assembly. This is being planned for a to-be-determined date, she said.
“I felt like our community here at ConVal needed a little bit of a push toward and reinforcement that we all need to be kinder to each other and realize everyone’s fighting a battle right now,” Kipka said.
ConVal High Principal Michelle Voto said the administration applauds these teenagers for taking a stand.
“[Students] are who we really should be listening to,” Voto said. “It’s about empowering our students to know they have a voice.”
To access the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, call 1-800-273-8255. For The Samaritans’ hotline, call 603-357-5505 or 1-866-457-2910.
Non-emergency calls for The Samaritans, a suicide-prevention group in Keene, can be directed to 357-5510.
Another resource is the Monadnock Peer Support Agency, at 64 Beaver St. in Keene, which is open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The agency can be reached at 352-5093 and has a “warm line” year-round, from 4 to 9 p.m., at 866-352-5093.
To schedule an appointment with MAPS Counseling Services, at 23 Central Square, unit 300, in Keene, call 355-2244. MAPS also has an office in Peterborough, at 9 Vose Farm Road, that can be reached at 924-2240.