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Suicide attempt survivor shares story; new resources becoming available

Suicide attempt survivor shares story;  new resources becoming available
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Inpatient psychiatric beds in New Hampshire have long been scarce, and the pandemic has only exacerbated the situation, forcing people to seek treatment for their mental health conditions in emergency rooms until a bed becomes available.

Last week, 18 adults and 21 children were waiting in emergency rooms that were not equipped to provide mental health treatment, according to the state’s Department of Health and Human Services’ tracking tool. Three more adults are waiting in correctional facilities.

However, an innovative mental health care program that was introduced as a part of the state’s mental health plan in 2019 provides respite from the emergency rooms’ crisis.

The Step Up Step Down program offers a compromise for those who need more help than the community can provide but don’t require hospital care. It is a non-clinical voluntary approach to mental healthcare.

There is “no one-size-fits-all solution” when it comes to mental health care, said Samantha Captain, co-director of the Step Up Step Down program at On the Road to Wellness, a grassroots mental health wellness organization in Manchester . Individuals can tailor the peer-to-peer support program to suit their needs.

Captain had his own mental health battles to fight while growing up. She was raised in a home where abuse was routine. She had a loving mother and a sister whom she calls her “greatest ally.” Her father, on the other hand, was a terror.

At 11, when she and her family relocated to New Hampshire from Westchester County, north of New York City, she imagined things would be different. But, the abuse only grew worse.

Growing up in the 1990s, Captain found it especially difficult to talk about her struggles with mental illness since at the time it wasn’t openly discussed as it is now. Mental health was something you kept to yourself and suffered with, no matter what. Luckily, that’s no longer the case.

As a teen, she was reluctant to seek help for two reasons: she was afraid she would be taken away from her mother and placed in foster care and she was aware of the stigma associated with mental illness.

“My friends didn’t really experience the same things I did,” Captain said. “They didn’t know how to talk about it or even acknowledge it.”

She believed the cycle of physical abuse would end after moving out at age 17. Incidents with her father became less frequent while she was in college, but she never escaped the doom and depression she felt.

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At 19, Captain mustered up the courage to confront his father. When she visited him to demand an apology, things didn’t go well for her.

“He attacked me physically,” Captain explained. “He threw me against a wall and choked me.”

Finding help

Captain’s repeated attempts at suicide throughout the years resulted in multiple hospitalizations. In one incident, she said the police threatened to take her against her will if she did not voluntarily check herself into a mental health facility. Her last hospitalization was in 2015.

Her hospital visits reaffirmed the feeling that nothing would ever change.

“It was hard to know that things ever had the possibility of changing,” she said. “But they did change and I think it’s about surviving long enough, enduring enough and finding your way through that.”

Looking back, she wishes she had had access to a program like the Step Up Step Down program when things were at their worst. She said that rather than being hospitalized, a similar program might have helped her to heal more quickly and given her better support.

Captain repeatedly tried to get his father to acknowledge what he had done. As he lay dying, she said, he admitted responsibility for their toxic relationship but not explicitly for the abuse.

Her father’s acknowledgment brought her no relief. After everything she had been through, it wasn’t enough.

“For me, the damage at that point, was mostly irreparable,” said Captain. “It didn’t come soon enough.”

After spending three decades figuring out how to manage her mental health, besides breathing exercises and grounding techniques, her job has been the most helpful.

“Being there to support other people in times of struggle has been incredibly healing for me,” said Captain. “It’s given me a way to give the pain of my past some purpose.”

As the program director of the peer-to-peer Step Up Step Down support program, she has had the opportunity to heal alongside the participants.

William Wood, 68, who entered the program to battle his depression worked closely with Captain.

“Sam was an anchor for me,” said Wood. “She helps you open up about your feelings.”

Wood compared the program to an island where he could take stock of himself and get the support he required, far from the chaos of his regular life.

State investment

New Hampshire as a state has long struggled with providing access to mental health care for all who need it. New Hampshire Hospital in Concord is the state’s only psychiatric facility, leading to a shortage of beds.

Outpatient counseling services are often booked months in advance or are not accepting new clients at all.

However, the state has made investments that are beginning to bear fruit, including the $13 million purchase of the Hampstead Hospital, which has 16 inpatient beds for children and adolescents.

In addition, the state is preparing to build a secure facility for 24 patients with mental illness that could be operating alongside New Hampshire Hospital in Concord by 2024.

The $30 million hospital was approved by the Legislature in 2020 to house patients in the criminal justice system who had been found incompetent to stand trial or not guilty by reason of insanity. These patients are currently held in the prison’s Secure Psychiatric Unit, which is not accredited for mental health services.

The state’s Suicide Prevention Council has set two distinct goals for the near future. The first: Help make others aware that suicide in New Hampshire is a public health problem that is generally preventable. The second: Reduce the stigma associated with obtaining mental health, substance misuse, and suicide prevention services.

Aside from the one Captain runs in Manchester, the state has three more Step Up Step Down programs in Northwood, Keene, and Nashua.

Captain now lives in Weare, where she works in the mental health sector and has a supportive husband. She feels as though her life has come full circle.

She is grateful for the chance to transform her life and hopes people see not only her journey and resilience but also her willingness to speak openly about her mental health issues.

“I’ve come a long way and I think it’s really important for stigma, shame and silence to end,” said Captain.

If you need help

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals.

Veterans: Veterans and their loved ones can call 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, chat online, or send a text message to 838255 to receive confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Support for deaf and hard of hearing individuals is available.

Crisis Text Line: Free, 24/7 support for those in crisis. Text 741741 from anywhere in the US to text with a trained Crisis Counselor.

Trans Lifeline: Call 1-877-565-8860 for a hotline staffed by transgender people for transgender people. Trans Lifeline volunteers are ready to respond to whatever support needs community members might have.

Disaster Distress Helpline: Call 1-800-985-5990 for a 24/7 national hotline dedicated to providing immediate crisis counseling for people who are experiencing emotional distress related to any natural or human-caused disaster.

The Trevor Project: A national 24-hour, toll free confidential suicide hotline for LGBTQ youth. If you are a young person in crisis, feeling suicidal, or in need of a safe and judgment-free place to talk, call 1-866-488-7386 to connect with a trained counselor.

The LGBT National Help Center: Call 1-888-843-4564. Open to callers of all ages. Provides peer-counselling, information, and local resources.

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