Read, act on mental illness warning signs
Could the Duxbury tragedy have been prevented?
The answer is yes, if there had been someone who acted on their suspicions and expressed their concern to those trained to mediate in such situations before the unspeakable occurs.
That’s why suicide prevention advocates want to emphasize the importance of the 988 suicide prevention hotline, as well as for family members and others to look out for warning signs after a mother-of-three allegedly killed her young children and attempted to take her own life.
Thanks to the efforts of a Massachusetts congressman, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline went live in most of the country last July.
US Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Salem, who co-sponsored the legislation, has rallied bipartisan support for the measure.
Known as the National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, legislation was signed into law in 2020.
Now professional psychiatric support is just a 3 digit phone call or text message away.
The 988 hotline, similar to the 911 emergency call system, is designed as an easy-to-remember phone number that gives callers experiencing a mental health crisis or their loved ones a way to connect to “fast, free, trained, and confidential” help .”
Now anyone can call or text 988 to connect 24/7 with trained counselors from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline network. They assess how the caller’s problems are affecting them, provide support and connect them to the appropriate resources when needed.
Massachusetts health authorities have been working with partner organizations to move from the 10-digit number (1-800-273-8255) to 988.
Switching to 988 will not eliminate the 800 number. When you dial one of these numbers, callers are directed to the same services.
Online chat is also available through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline website at suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat.
“Anyone who is contemplating suicide or is struggling with a mental health issue or anything else needs to ask for help,” Debbie Helms, director of the Samaritans of Merrimack Valley, told the Boston Herald on Wednesday. “And 988 now gives us another option alongside our trained crisis advisors.
“It’s a tragic situation, a terrible situation, and we want people to know that there are resources out there,” Helms added. “It’s okay to ask for help.”
As previously mentioned, 988 isn’t just reserved for the person in crisis, said Leeann Sherman, CEO of the American Association of Suicidology. People who know the person fighting – whether it is a loved one, friend, neighbor or colleague – should contact 988 if they have concerns about the person.
The 988 resource could be considered the version of the mental health warning sign laws, allowing police, relatives or acquaintances to petition courts to remove a firearm if the person is deemed a threat to themselves or others.
Friends or family are often better able to judge whether a person’s mental health has deteriorated to the point where they need saving from themselves.
“They may have noticed something about this person, and the 988 crisis hotline is something they could call to get local resources for this person,” Sherman said of an objective observer. “The crisis center can steer them in the right direction.”
Some warning signs include major changes in a person’s habits, isolation from loved ones, and a loss of interest in doing things they love.
“People ask, ‘How are you?’ It can be helpful to tell them you care about them,” said Kathleen Marchi, CEO and President of Samaritans Inc.
The father of the three young Duxbury children who are believed to have died was too emotionally involved in coping with his wife’s mental health crisis to make this critical call for help.
In this tragedy in particular, an extremely rare form of postpartum depression probably triggered the mother’s supposedly unthinkable act.
While an estimated 1 in 5 pregnancies are affected by postpartum depression, it is estimated that 1 in 500 pregnancies are affected by postpartum psychosis, according to Serena Rosa, a registered nurse who has worked with postpartum mothers for more than a decade.
“It’s very scary, it spins fast and it’s very dangerous,” Rosa, an assistant professor at the MGH Institute of Health Professions, told the Herald on Thursday.
We can only hope that the increased awareness generated by this tragic outcome will save the lives of other mothers affected by this unstable mental illness and their children.