On February 13th, 2020 more than sixty (60) concerned citizens, including family members who have lost their loved ones to suicide and a group of more than ten youth advocates from Rutland Regional High School, attended an event organized by an integrated coalition of public health organizations to raise awareness and generate support for a set of Recommendations put forth by the Agency for Human Services Suicide Prevention Work Group to Governor Phil Scott for suicide prevention. The Recommendations focus on Zero Suicide in healthcare, support for the Lifelines Call Response line in VT, elder and veteran care, and mobile support efforts for at-risk individuals throughout the state.
The diverse set of organizations that advocated in public testimonies within the House Committee on Health Care and the Senate Health and Welfare Committee included representatives from Vermont Suicide Prevention Center (VTSPC), Center for Health and Learning (CHL), AFSP (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention), DAIL (Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living), Department of Mental Health, SASH (Support And Services at Home), U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs at White River Junction , Vermont Program for Quality in Health Care, Inc (VPQHC), Vermont Department of Health, National Alliance on Mental Illness of Vermont (NAMI Vermont), and Vermont Care Partners.
Department of Mental Health Commissioner Sarah Squirrell spoke in both the House Committee on Health Care testimony and a press conference organized by the coalition supporting the governors budgetary ask of $575,000 to the legislature.
“At any given time, many of us experience challenges in our lives, see our children and loved ones our families our friends struggling,” Department of Mental Health Commissioner Sarah Squirrell said. “The weight of these stresses can lead to thoughts of suicide. Vermonters are struggling, our children are struggling, our youth are struggling.”
JoEllen Tarallo, Center for Health and Learning reminded people in the press conference that in 2019, we collectively lost 124 Vermonters (2-3 individuals a week) to suicide and that it has increasingly become a public health issue. She reminded people the importance of reaching out to others, using the resources of the National Lifeline (1-800-273-8255), the VT Crisis Text Line (vtcrisistextline.org – Text “VT” to 741741), and calling their local mental health agencies and providers to ask for help.
Joe Smith, a Veteran and suicide survivor, spoke with simplicity and powerfulness during the public testimony on House Committee on Health Care. He shared his story of hope and recovery and reminded everyone of the importance of having trained and peer outreach and health care workers. He discussed how these very workers offered him a lifeline and the will to carry on when he thought he could not. He stressed the need for further funding so that more health care and peer outreach workers can be prepared to respond with effective messages, screenings, assessments, treatments and recovery support to those in need.
WCAX video coverage of the event
Although the day was extremely impactful, our work is not over. Please continue to write letters of thank you and support for the Governor’s recommendations to both the House Committee on Health Care and the Appropriations Committee. Please see the emails below:
House Committee on Health Care
- Chair – William J. Lippert – firstname.lastname@example.org
- Chair – Demis Martin – Demis@leg.state.vt.us
House Committee on Appropriations
- Chair – Catherine Toll – email@example.com
- Senior Staff Associate – Theresa Utton-Jerman – TUtton@leg.state.vt.us
Senate Committee on Health and Welfare
- Chair – Sen. Virginia “Ginny” Lyons – firstname.lastname@example.org
- Committee Assistant – Doris Oatley – DOatley@leg.state.vt.us
Senate Committee on Appropriations
- Chair – Sen. Jane Kitchel – email@example.com
- Staff Associate – Rebecca Buck – firstname.lastname@example.org
Also, if you met with your legislator on February 13th, please remember to send a hand-written thank you note!