Trumbull EMS, non-profit groups team up for suicide prevention

My Friend Abby founder Gillian Anderson (right) with board member Charlotte Hommel (center) and her daughter Grace Hommel at the group's 2019 launch.

My Friend Abby founder Gillian Anderson (right) with board member Charlotte Hommel (center) and her daughter Grace Hommel at the group’s 2019 launch.

Hearst Connecticut Media file photo

TRUMBULL - For EMS workers, the key to helping someone through the worst moments of their life is teamwork.

EMS Chief Leigh Goodman said when her staff answers a mental distress call, they are trained to step aside if it seems that the person needing assistance isn’t connecting with a particular staff member. Another team member will step in and offer assistance.

“It’s been a very good system, and we’re continuing to work on that and build that out, making sure that all of our providers are able to provide the care that we want to offer, but also able to recognize whether they need to ask for help,” Goodman said.

On Friday, Trumbull EMS and local non-profit groups My Friend Abby and Trumbull’s Prevention Partnership (TPAUD) are teaming up to launch the inaugural town commemoration of World Suicide Prevention Day.

The event comes as Goodman said she’s seen an uptick in emergency calls related to mental distress. Gillian Anderson, the mother of a young teen who died by suicide seven years ago, and the founder of My Friend Abby, said that the ongoing pandemic has taken a toll on the mental health of young people who are at risk of self harm or suicide.

Organizers will host the event at the Trumbull EMS headquarters at 250 Middlebrooks Ave. It will feature guest speakers, refreshments and a moment of silence to remember those who died and those who have been impacted by loss.

Goodman said the event will encourage others to change their preconceived notions about mental health.

“What this particular event does is it gives people an opportunity to say it’s okay for me to talk about this. And it’s okay for you to ask me about this,” Goodman said.

Young people are considered to be more susceptible to suicide according to a 2019 article in the U.S National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Public Health. More teens are seeking medical treatment due to mental illness and suicide is considered the second leading cause of death for teens aged 12 to 17.

The Project Director for TPAUD, Melissa McGarry said that in her experience, some Trumbull teens are going through similar struggles.

“From TPAUD’s perspective, our work with young people and their families tells us that we have some youth in Trumbull who are struggling with isolation, depression, and anxiety,” she said. “Mental health concerns are often the driver of drinking, vaping, and other drug use - kids report self-medicating to feel better. It is TPAUD’s mission to work with the schools and the town to educate and engage youth and their parents that ‘you are not alone’ and help is available.”

But Friday’s event is designed to give local residents agency in advocating for mental health. Anderson’s loss of her daughter Abby, which she likens to a lingering nightmare, has also led her to raise suicide awareness as a Trumbull resident in the ensuing years. Goodman has also experienced loss. She said EMS personnel in neighboring departments, who worked in a highly stressful and demanding profession, have died by suicide.

The speakers scheduled for the event have also been impacted or have previously attempted suicide, according to Goodman. But she also knows that not everyone will be receptive to any one method for outreach.

“Somebody might find it really helpful to have that peer-to-peer support and group support. And another person might find that it’s not the right voice for them. So we try to let people know that there’s a lot of different people out there and different ways to help them,” she said.

And although the event will feature remembrance for those lost to suicide, Anderson doesn’t want people to remember those who died as just victims.

“That’s why we’re doing this event,” she said. “Let’s all get together and light a candle and try to remember these amazing people not because they died by suicide, but because of their contributions to society.”

My Friend Abby, named after her daughter, has grown in the year-and-a half since it became a registered non-profit organization. It now boasts volunteers and has distributed grants to young people who want to reach out to their peers. The website lists teens and young adults who have written a play and set up their own safe spaces where fellow teens can speak frankly without judgment among others.

The event will conclude with participants lighting candles. Goodman wants participants to understand that they have support from all over town.

“I just really wanted to do something to show that we work together. EMS is here. Your prevention partners are here, your counseling center here, the fire department, the police department, we are all here together, as well as a whole community,” she said.