By Erin Mansfield, VTDigger
Ten members of the Vermont House have introduced a bill intended to get to the root of why people take their own lives.
H.184 would require the Department of Mental Health to issue a report to the Legislature every year describing why suicides happen and recommending ways to prevent them.
Under the bill, the Department of Health, which already has suicide data, would be required to submit detailed suicide information to the Department of Mental Health, which does not currently present the Legislature with detailed analyses of the causes of suicide.
Rep. James Masland, D-Thetford, is the lead sponsor. Masland said he introduced the bill in response to a constituent who thought there should be an independent commission to study suicide.
Masland said he is considering introducing a bill that would create an independent commission. But because of ongoing issues with the budget, he said having the Department of Mental Health make recommendations was a cheaper idea.
“There’s nothing in what [the department is] directed to do to actually come forth with policy recommendations or things that would specifically help reduce the incidence of suicide,” Masland said.
Rep. Anne Donahue, R-Northfield, a prominent mental health advocate, said more people in Vermont die every year by suicide than in motor vehicle accidents, and the state has data on how people take their lives and their basic demographic information.
But there is no data at the state level evaluating why people take their lives, Donahue said. “We need to get a handle on that if we’re going to make a difference,” she said.
In 2013, according to vital statistics from the Vermont Department of Health, 113 people died by suicide in Vermont, compared with 72 who died in motor vehicle accidents.
Donahue said she wants to know the following: “What was this individual’s life trajectory? Are there things we can learn from these deaths that would tell us ‘This intervention might’ve made a difference’?”
“What are the causes?” she asked. “What are the stressors in people’s lives? Why is it that more people die by suicide [per capita] in Vermont than in most other states?”
JoEllen Tarallo-Falk, the executive director of the Vermont Suicide Prevention Center, supports the concept behind the bill. She said determining the root causes of suicide is a growing field across the country.
“Specifically we’re interested in the mental, emotional, social, physical and environmental factors” at play, she said, “and also understanding at what points people have interacted with the health care system and how we create a really consistent pathway to effective care.”
Donahue said the information could help primary care physicians, who she said are often treating patients with psychiatric issues.
Photo by Roger Crowley, VTDigger
Rep. Jim Masland, D-Thetford