Massachusetts Senate Wants More Money for Suicide Prevention

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By Colin A. Young


BOSTON — The Massachusetts Senate on Thursday added a $400,000 line item to its budget to help Samaritans Inc. offer assistance to people who may be considering suicide, and senators said the funding would be important as some schools have alerted parents that a Netflix show is drawing more attention to suicide among high schoolers.

State Senator Linda Forry said her amendment (# 392) will help Samaritans keep up with an increasing call volume and a new program that allows people to connect with Samaritans via text messaging.

“In fiscal year 2017, Samaritans is on track to answer over 73,000 calls, their call demand in fiscal ’17 is running 5 percent higher than in fiscal year ’16,” said Forry (D-Dorchester). “This tells us that in our commonwealth we have people who are hurting, people who are suffering, people who feel that they have no other place to turn.”

The Legislature included $400,000 for Samaritans in the final fiscal year 2017 budget, but that funding was cut in December when Governor Charlie Baker used his 9C authority in an effort to match up sluggish state revenues with likely spending.

State Senator Barbara L’italian (D-Andover) told the Senate about how she volunteered with Samaritans in Lawrence while attending college and how sometimes just having someone to talk to can help a person who is contemplating taking their life.

“Most people truly don’t want to take their life, but they lack hope or a forward step,” she said. “Sometimes in their darkest hour, just being present on the phone and listening is the most powerful thing you can offer that person.”

The House included the $400,000 allocation in its budget, likely ensuring its inclusion in the final budget.

State Senator John Keenan (D-Quincy) said every school system in his district has sent email messages to parents “advising them that there is something going on out there that they fear may increase the number of people who are considering suicide.”

Keenan said a Netflix show that is “all the rage” with teenagers, 13 Reasons Why, deals with a high school student’s suicide and makes for “gripping TV” but is also bringing suicide to the forefront for many teens who watch the show.

“You turn it on and it grabs you,” Keenan said, noting that he has watched a handful of the hour-long episodes. “I cannot imagine how it is grabbing young people today, but clearly it is and school systems have felt the need to make parents aware of this.”

Keenan noted how the state has placed various billboards and signs around the state’s roadways and on the MBTA with the Samaritans’ name and telephone number on them, with instructions to call the group if necessary.

“Wouldn’t it be a shame if they picked up the phone and nobody was on the other end?” he said. “So this funding makes sure that somebody is on the other end when somebody needs them most.”