By Gene Robbins, Managing Editor
Smooth river stones greeted about 80 Hillsborough community leaders Friday at a kickoff to address the issue of suicide in the community.
As people sat down with their breakfast, they were instructed to take a felt-tipped pen and write “gratitude” on a stone of their choosing. Then they were challenged to write on the rock something for which they were especially thankful in their own lives.
In many cases, it was “family,” but the list could have included a job, good health and any number of things in life.
The conference wanted to make it apparent that there everyone has a reason to live. If people concentrate on positive things, they are more likely to want to continue to live, the belief holds.
The conference, organized by the township group BoroSafe, began a year-long, community-wide effort to stimulate thinking about the positive things for which people are grateful, and then to spread those thoughts to others.
BoroSafe believes awareness and positive thinking might help stem an alarming number of suicides in Hillsborough.
In a brochure the group said there were 19 clear suicides in the township between 2001 and 2015. There were nine other student deaths, some of which may be have been suicides, the group said.
In Hillsborough between 2001 and 2015 there were 12 suicides by Hillsborough High students and a few recent graduates, and one middle school suicide.
It the same period there were six suicides by parents of students and other adults.
“Comparison with neighboring municipalities leads to a sad realization: our statistics are significantly worse than those of other towns,” said the literature. “All who care about this community grieve: we have attended too many funerals, particularly deaths of young students.”
The group’s literature pointed to an alarming increase in the number of potentially suicidal youths. It said that in 2004-05 the high school referred four students to the hospital for suicidal and homicidal reasons and saw two hospitalized.
Ten years later, the numbers were 32 referrals and 21 hospitalized.
The literature asked rhetorically, “Why are students having increasing difficulty coping with life?”
Suicide is preventable, the BoroSafe tag line emphasizes.
“Suicide is not an option, Reach out; you are not alone,” the group says.
Patricia Colontino, the high school’s suicide prevention specialist, said that suicide not discriminate; adults and the elderly commit suicide, too.
But research shows that gratitude, said Dr. Colontino, promotes positive benefits, and serves as a preventive factor to people who may be thinking about ending their life by their own actions.
She wanted the group to practice gratitude — and you must practice, she said — to understand you can make changes in your life. You can build gratitude, and it can be infectious. It stimulates the brain.
“I believe there is hope,” she said. “You are the people to spread hope and gratitude.”
The Rev. Timothy J. Wolf, pastor of New Horizon Church and chair of the Hillsborough Youth Services Commission, said he himself was an awkward and angst-ridden youth who wrote dark poetry along the railroad tracks when he was in college. At 22 and at a low point, he learned that there was hope and he could renew his mind. What he learned to do personally helps him connect with others today, he said.
In his first year in Hillsborough, he heard of a suicide while he was driving in his car. He said he determined at that point “not on my watch.”
A video highlighted the testimony of a police officer Sgt. Kevin Griggs, assigned for many years to patrol the Golden Gate Bridge, a magnet for people who are contemplating suicide.
One of the traits he learned, the officer said, was to listen to understand. Don’t argue or blame or tell the person you know how they feel. Just being there may be the turning point they need, he said.
“It shouldn’t be so easy to end it,” he said.
Suicide is borne out of a sense of hopelessness and helplessness, he said. Often the victim thinks they are not hurting others, just ending their personal pain, he said. Withdrawal often manifests itself in sleeping more, drugs or alcohol and then death.
The group introduced a Twitter handle (#hillsboroughgratitude) and Dr. Colantino said she’d challenge a high school peer leadership group, Sources of Strength, to use it to send messages to three friends — and ask them to pass it along to more.
By Gene Robbins, Managing Editor