Talk Saves Lives: Health and Human Services Department Presents Program on Suicide Prevention

Heidi Porter, Director of the new Health and Human Services Department for the town of Bedford, welcomed residents to a meeting on November 18 in the Reed Room of Town Hall featuring speaker Tara Greeley from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP.)

Note: As of September, the Health and Human Services Department incorporates four town agencies that had previously operated separately: Health, Youth and Family Services, Council on Aging, and Veterans’ Services.

Greeley began her remarks with some compelling statistics: suicide is the 10th leading cause of  death in the United States and 13th for the state of Massachusetts; among young people between the ages of 10 and 34, it is the 2nd leading cause of death; and for every completed suicide, there are an estimated 25 attempts.  Globally, 800,000 lives a year are lost due to suicide which translates to one death roughly every 40 seconds.

Written material provided for attendees included the Summary of Results from the 2018 Bedford Youth Risk Behavior Survey.  Students from the middle school and high school were asked whether they had seriously considered, made a plan to carry out, and/or actually attempted suicide in the previous 12 months.  Eleven percent of middle schoolers responded yes to having considered suicide, 6% said they had made a plan, and 1% made an actual attempt.  Fifteen percent of high school students reported having considered suicide, 13% said they had made a plan, and 3% attempted suicide.  Statistics for both groups reflect an increase, in comparison with earlier surveys (typically done every couple of years) which tracks with both state and national data.

The entire summary of results for Bedford’s most recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey is available on the Youth and Family Services page of the Town’s website,

“This is everybody’s business,” Greeley said while acknowledging that suicide is a difficult subject to talk about even when the focus is on the more hopeful aspects of intervention and prevention.

Greeley explained that the AFSP was founded some 30 years ago as researchers began studying why people take their own lives.  “There is no single cause, but rather multiple intersecting factors that culminate at a time of crisis.  The large majority of people who die by suicide do have a mental condition that contributes to that act.”

Signs that a person may be struggling and contemplating suicide may include the obvious signs of depression, talking about suicide, giving away possessions, and/or withdrawal from friends, family, or usual activities.  Greeley stressed the importance of “trusting your gut” as well.  “Have a conversation.  Reach out.”  She suggested that a conversation could be opened by asking simply “Are you ok?  I’ve noticed you don’t seem like yourself.  Do you feel like talking?”  Then, she said, it becomes important to listen, express concern, and guide that person to professional resources if possible.

It was pointed out by one member of the audience that there is still a significant stigma associated with suicide, attempted suicide, and seeking appropriate mental health assistance.  Greeley did not disagree, and responded, “We need a culture that prioritizes mental health.”  Using an analogy to emphasize a change in thinking, she added, “If I break my arm I am going to a doctor who is qualified to fix my arm.  If I have a mental health concern, I’m going to find a doctor or clinician who can help me.”

Various resources of all kinds and targeted to all ages can be readily found on the Youth and Family Services section of the town website (

Click to view/download/print a handout listing additional resources.

The Eliot Clinical Team is made up of three professionals who provide counseling services to the town on a contract basis.  Services are provided in Bedford and Concord by appointment.   The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-TALK) provides 24/7 free and confidential support for people in distress and can offer prevention and crisis resources.

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