As suicide rates nudge upwards, the Rhode Island Department of Health is developing a suicide prevention plan, according to a leading suicide prevention advocate.

This comes at a time when there is a dramatic upswing in behavioral health issues among high schoolers nationwide, with 42 percent of high school students reportedly experiencing persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, according to a Centers for Disease Control Report issued last week. That’s an increase from 28 percent in 2011.

That same report said that 22 percent of high schoolers had seriously considered attempting suicide, and 10 percent had actually attempted suicide.

The Department of Health Plan will not only focus on teenagers, but will focus on the general population, according to Kerrie Constant, area director, Rhode Island Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

“The Rhode Island Department of Health is putting together a comprehensive three-year suicide prevention plan,” Constant said. “They are starting the preliminary research and data collection” for all age groups.

The DOH did not respond to WUN’s request for comment. The latest data on the DOH website appears to be five years old, although there is a list of survey questions for 2023.

According to the World Population Review, Rhode Island has among the lowest suicide rates per 100,000 residents at 10.7. New Jersey is lowest at 8 per 100,000 and Wyoming the highest at 29.3.

Many school systems have raised concerns about mental health issues among students, particularly related to the pandemic.

In Westerly, the school committee and administration will hold a panel discussion on mental and behavioral health at its March 1 meeting. Christine Cooke, a school board member, said the schools hope to track items such as student arrests, reports of suicide attempts, substance abuse and caseload for school psychologists, social workers and behavioral specialists. 

“The goal, at least for me, of sharing this information publicly would be to ensure the committee and the public is aware of just how serious some of the issues we are facing really are, and making sure that we have the supports needed to address them,” Cooke said.

The data in the CDC report, specifically notes that females are far more vulnerable than males, with 57 percent of female students having persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, compared to 29 percent among males. It also shows a huge disparity relative to sexual identity, with nearly 70 percent of LGBQ+ students with persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, compared to 35 percent of heterosexual students.

The disparities also appear among those seriously considering attempting suicide: 22 percent overall, 30 percent female, 14 percent male; 45 percent LBGQ+, 15 percent heterosexual.

The CDC also asked whether students were experiencing poor mental health over the past 30 days. The results were alarming with 29 percent overall (41 percent female, 18 percent male; 52 percent LGBQ+, 22 percent heterosexual).

The full report can be found at

If you or someone you know has a mental illness, is struggling emotionally, or has concerns about their mental health, there are ways to get help. Use these resources to find help for you, a friend, or a family member.

Get Immediate Help in a Crisis

Call 911 if you or someone you know is in immediate danger or go to the nearest emergency room.

988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline
Call or text 988; Llame al 988 (para ayuda en español)
Use Lifeline Chat on the web (English only)
The Lifeline provides 24-hour, confidential support to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. Call or text 988 to connect with a trained crisis counselor. 

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