The Charger Blog

University of New Haven and Connecticut Lawmakers Address Suicide Prevention

A recent Suicide Prevention Policy Summit brought together University of New Haven faculty, staff, and students, as well as lawmakers and members of the local community, to discuss what has become a serious public health issue across the country.

February 12, 2021

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Image from Suicide Prevention Policy Summit.
The Suicide Prevention Policy Summit brought together the University community, as well as lawmakers and members of the local community.

Rebekah Stafford ’21 M.A is concerned about the local and national prevalence of suicide – particularly when it comes to young people. She has been working on several projects related to suicide prevention, and she hopes to continue to make an impact.

The high rates of suicide, particularly among LGBTQ+ youth, inspired her and several of her classmates to conduct a roundtable discussion at the Eastern Psychology Association, which will take place next month. A candidate in the University’s graduate program in community psychology, Stafford says prevention and intervention are integral to her field – as well as to suicide prevention.

Continuing her work in the field, Stafford recently attended a virtual Suicide Prevention Policy Summit hosted by the University’s School of Health Sciences that included state lawmakers, community members, and members of the University community.

“It was great to not only see speakers bring awareness to suicide prevention in Connecticut, but also to have discussions with people in key legislative positions who can help advance policy and support initiatives on a macro level,” she said. “These conversations are a critical step in bringing about change on a larger scale, so I was thrilled to see our state representatives in attendance. I hope this summit will facilitate policy development that continues to build resiliency in our communities and addresses some of the complex systems contributing to this public health concern.”

Image of Lillie Macias presenting on zoom.
Lillie Macias, Ph.D., spoke at the summit.
‘There will always be support’

Alvin Tran, Sc.D., MPH, an assistant professor of public health at the University, helped organize the event and served as moderator. Suicide, Dr. Tran says, is among the top ten leading causes of death, and although it affects people of all ages, the rate is highest among middle-aged white men. His message was that suicide can be prevented.

“This pandemic has resulted in public health sanctions, including stay-at-home orders to stop the spread of COVID-19,” he said. “But it has also exacerbated risk factors for a number of mental health outcomes, including depression, post-traumatic stress, and hopelessness. I would like to remind everyone that there is hope. There is always someone listening. There will always be support.”

The summit, held for the second year in a row, was a way for members of communities across the state to discuss their concerns and propose suicide prevention solutions. It included several speakers, including Lillie Macias, Ph.D., a psychology professor at the University, and Thomas Steen, a suicide prevention speaker. He shared the story of his son, Tyler, who died by suicide in December of 2009. He stressed the importance of staying socially connected, of reaching out to crisis counselors, and of seeking education when it comes to suicide prevention. He also discussed the pain of losing his son.

“My life has a hole in it where Tyler used to be,” he said. “If we’d known more about suicide prevention, Tyler might still be alive. After he died, and we started pulling away the layers, we saw how at risk he was.”

Image of Thomas Steen sharing the story of his son, Tyler.
Thomas Steen shared the story of his son, Tyler, who died by suicide.
‘Events like this one are pivotal for students’

Mabintou Darboe ’22 MPH attended the summit because she was looking to know more about what is being done to combat the increasing rate of suicide, and she wanted to be part of a meaningful conversation about suicide prevention with state lawmakers. She was grateful that the summit provided an opportunity to have an open conversation about a topic that still carries a stigma and that it raised awareness and education for a crucial topic.

“I suffer from depression, and this summit meant that people cared about what I – and millions of others – are going through every day,” she said. “I hope it encourages our lawmakers to focus policies on minorities and college students. Marginalized populations do not generally have all the resources they need to help them cope with the stressors they encounter daily. Events like this one are pivotal for students, enabling us to advocate and let our representatives know what the community needs.”