Photo courtesy of Newport Mental Health

By Newport Mental Health

With the COVID-19 pandemic lasting longer than expected and unemployment rates continuing to rise, agency leaders are looking to stem what could be yet another grim trend: increases in suicide.

Data from the National Institute of Health shows that suicide rates rise alongside jumps in unemployment. Unemployment during the pandemic was 10.2 percent for July 2020 compared to 3.5 for the same month in 2019.

One under- publicized fact about our area: According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Newport County has the highest suicide rate in the state and one that is higher than the national rate. Newport County has a suicide rate of 14.4 per 100,000 individuals compared to the national 13.42 per 100,000. In addition, Newport’s 2016 suicide rate was almost double its 2012 rate of 7.24 per 100,000.

A new COVID-19 Emergency Suicide Prevention program that has gotten rave reviews nationally is soon to be implemented in Newport County as part of Newport Mental Health’s $800,000 Suicide Initiative funded by the Substance Abuse Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA).  

“The Suicide Prevention program gives us the opportunity to get out in front of this alarming trend. With the confluence of the pandemic, layoffs, racial inequity, and an election year, we’re facing tremendous uncertainty, which unfortunately also gives rise to serious behavioral issues and suicide,” said President and CEO Jamie Lehane of Newport Mental Health. 

Lehane noted that the multi-year Substance Abuse Mental Health Administration (SAMSHA) grant along with funding from the van Beuren Charitable Foundation will enable Newport Hospital, East Bay Community Action Program (EBCAP), the Women’s Resource Center , CODAC, and a host of other agencies the ability to “deliver uniform suicide care among different healthcare systems.’ He added that the suicide prevention program involves interagency collaboration and a newly formed partner network known as No Wrong Door. 

“The program streamlines existing processes using evidence-based practices, staff training, and careful client monitoring to determine the level of suicide risk,” said Dan Wartenberg, PhD Newport Mental Health’s Clinical Officer leading the COVID-19 Emergency Suicide Prevention program. He added that the system-wide approach will “close gaps, provide specific interventions for suicide, greater intensity of care and client involvement during high risk periods.”

NMH Clinical Director Dan Wartenberg

  “The suicide prevention program along with No Wrong Door is the first time we’ll be able to provide seamless treatment for the area. It’s a first in Newport County. We’re teaming up with community agencies to provide a community culture determined to learn together and make a difference,” said Newport County Prevention Coalition Director Rebecca Elwell, who is leading the No Wrong Door initiative.

The mission of Newport Mental Health is to improve the lives of children, adults and families living and working in Newport County by providing the highest quality, recovery-oriented, evidence-based and integrated mental health and substance use care. Newport Mental Health serves all residents of Jamestown, Newport, Middletown, Portsmouth, Tiverton, and Little Compton, regardless of background or circumstance.


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