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December 30, 1996

Local youths pick guns, ropes, pills

By Brian LaRue
Every 90 minutes, a teenager somewhere in America kills himself.

“It's more than just common, it's probably at epidemic proportions,” said Dr. Lawrence Levine, chairman of the department of emergency medicine at Bristol Hospital.

The rise in the rate of teen suicide - 250 percent in the past 30 years - has caused it to become the nation’s second leading killer of young people, after accidents.

On a more local level, suicide claims about one teenager annually in Bristol, Plymouth, or Plainville.

In his two years at Bristol Hospital, Levine said he has seen a fair share of attempted suicides, including hangings, gunshot wounds and drug overdoses.

Levine said not all of the victims mean to kill themselves. Often, he said, suicide attempts are simply a cry for help or attention.

Mary Drexler, regional director of the Infoline hotline, said teens can become suicidally depressed if they feel unloved at love or are suffering abuse they can’t control. Gifted students struggling to meet their own demands can also be at risk, she said.

“Usually there's a major loss that occurs,” said Drexler.

Operated by the United Way of Connecticut, Infoline is a free, toll-free, confidential, anonymous service provided, in part,for crisis intervention. The line received over 3,000 suicide-related calls last year.

In the past 15 years, at least 16 teens have killed themselves in Bristol, Plainville and Plymouth, according to death certificates researched by The Tattoo.

The number represents 17 percent of the 93 area teens who died in that time. The cause of death in some cases was unclear.

Only illness and car wrecks, which claimed 38 lives, caused more local teens to die.

Three-quarters of the local teen suicides were boys. Ten of the 12 shot themselves. The other two – and half of the four dead girls – hung themselves. None of the four girls used a gun.

Levine said both his experience and statistics show women attempt suicide more often than men. But, he said, men are proportionately more successful -- and violent.

According to a 1994 Connecticut Department of Health Services survey, one in 10 high school students said that they had contemplated suicide or felt depressed at the time.

The survey found that a little less than 1 percent of high school students had tried to take their lives.

Though the repercussions of a single suicide may reach hundreds of people, those who are thinking of killing themselves are ofen unaware of the impact it would have.

“This is someone who doesn't have much self-esteem,” Levine said.

At the hospital, a survivor of a suicide attempt is given counseling. Sometimes patients are placed in a psychiatric ward or institution.

Infoline also provides long-term services and a mobile crisis unit that can come to the caller.

In order to keep the situation from escalating, professional agree that action should be taken early on.

“What I do for a living is save lives,” said Levine. He said it is better to approach a troubled teen with support rather than anger. “The important thing,” said Levin, “is to show compassion.”


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