Connecticut Department of Public Health receives five-year, $3.5M grant from CDC to fund suicide prevention efforts

The Connecticut Department of Public Health has received a five-year, $3.5 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to enhance statewide suicide prevention efforts, Gov. Ned Lamont announced at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford Thursday morning.

The grant, which runs through Aug. 31, 2025, will be a joint effort between DPH, the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, the Connecticut Department of Children and Families and UConn Health. The prevention efforts will concentrate on populations that are disproportionately impacted by suicide or attempted suicide, including middle-aged adults, particularly men with mental illness or substance use disorder, and adolescents and young adults (ages 10-24).

State officials at the news conference spoke about the intense mental health toll the COVID-19 pandemic has taken on Connecticut residents.

With COVID-19 cases increasing and the winter approaching, “I can feel the stress building again,” Lamont said. He described a “witches’ brew” of health concerns, economic distress and social isolation.

“I hear a lot of, ‘I thought we had a light at the end of the COVID tunnel and it looks like it’s receding,’ ” Lamont said. “I hear the economic anxiety every day.”

Dr. Steven Wolf, chairman of emergency medicine at St. Francis, said that social isolation has exacerbated local residents’ experiences of mental illness and substance use disorder.

Seven people under the age of 18 have died by suicide in Connecticut this year, including four since October, according to Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, the commissioner of the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services.

Connecticut averages about eight suicides of children under the age of 18 annually, Vannessa Dorantes, the commissioner of the state’s Department of Children and Families, said. She emphasized that the state must “work together to get that number to zero.”

On average, 403 Connecticut residents died annually of suicide between 2015 and 2019, a 14% increase from the annual average of 351 residents between 2010 and 2014, according to state officials.

“Though Connecticut has one of the lowest suicide rates in the United States, we know even one death is too much,” Delphin-Rittmon said.

Karen Jarmoc, president & CEO of the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said that calls to CTSafeConnect, the organization’s domestic violence hotline, rose by 30% due to the COVID-19 pandemic and domestic violence advocacy groups across the state faced increased demand for their services.

“When the pandemic hit in March in our state, understandably there were shut-in orders to keep people safe from a public health standpoint,” Jarmoc said. “From our perspective, it created a precarious situation where victims of domestic violence were shut in with their abusive partner.”

Early in the pandemic, 18 sites across the state that house victims of domestic violence had to send some people to hotels in order to reduce capacity and the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak, she said. That resulted in more than $390,000 in unexpected fees to house about 200 adults and 200 children in hotels, from March through August, she added.

Jarmoc noted that Lamont’s administration has supported the organization’s effort to apply for reimbursement for those hotel costs from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and that domestic violence organizations have worked hard to close the budget gap. But the expenses remain significant, especially in light of unknown additional costs in 2021, she said.

If you are in Connecticut and experiencing thoughts of suicide, call 211. Additionally, he National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK).

For more information about domestic violence or about how to get help, visit the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence website at http://www.ctcadv.org/ or call or text 888-774-2900.

Eliza Fawcett can be reached at [email protected]

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©2020 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.)

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