Suicide Notes Studied in Prevention Effort
July 07, 2004

CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - Lawmakers developing a new suicide prevention education policy are wading through some painful reading material - notes left behind by teenagers who killed themselves.

Six out of 10 New Hampshire teens who commit suicide in New Hampshire leave behind a note - a number that is more than double the national average of 20 to 30 percent.

"The notes tend to be remarkably thoughtful... Some are angry but many absolve people of a sense of guilt," said Elaine Frank, program director of the Injury Prevention Center at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

The notes are part of a body of information now being examined by the House Health Education Review Committee under a bill signed last month by Gov. Craig Benson.

The law calls for better review of the development of a statewide plan for suicide prevention. It will coordinate the efforts of lawmakers, the state Board of Education and the Youth Suicide Prevention Advisory Assembly. It also calls for a school guidance counselor to be appointed to the Health Education Review Committee.

Frank hopes the new legislation will eventually lead to an explanation for the note phenomenon.

Some 21 New Hampshire residents between the ages of 15 and 24 commit suicide every year, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data collected in between 1996 and 2001. About 22 percent of female high school students and 13 percent of male students in New Hampshire reported seriously considering attempting suicide on risk surveys, CDC records show.

While state officials will not release the contents of suicide notes, the state's chief medical examiner said he remains deeply affected by the number of teens who turn to suicide.

"While I am saddened by the drug deaths, frustrated by the traffic and fire deaths and enraged by the homicides, I remain haunted by the suicides," said Dr. Thomas Andrew. "What makes a teenage hurt so badly he or she would take this truly final step?"

"These (notes) are the articulate but anguished voices that were not heard, not listened to, or perhaps, due to the reticence of young males to bare their emotions, not expressed during life," he said.