2021 brought Vermont’s highest suicide rates in over 15 years.
Emily Hackett-Fiske and Robert Black are both Vermonters left to deal with that grief personally, after their children unexpectedly fell victim to suicide while operating a firearm.
“I can’t touch him, I can’t give him a hug,” Black said.
Emily’s son Ryan was just 12 years-old at the time of his death in 2020, and had a love of hiking, swimming and karate.
“We were already talking about the responsibilities of driving at 12, and I’ll never have that with him,” she said.
Robert’s son Andrew was 23 years-old, with a love of baseball.
“I had no idea this was even in his head,” he said.
Rep. Alyssa Black, Andrew’s mother, is a member of the House’s Healthcare Committee. Determined to show that Ryan and her son are more than statistics, she has presented a short-form bill aimed at increasing mental health resources and suicide-prevention tools.
“We are much higher than the national average, and we don’t talk about it enough,” said Black, D-Essex.
With suicide rates in Vermont at the highest they’ve been in decades, Black said exploring safe storage requirements and a waiting period before gun purchases are a priority.
“It is our easy access to firearms,” Black said. “The data is very clear. High firearm ownership leads to high rates of suicide.”
Libby Bonesteel, the superintendent of Montpelier Roxbury School District, says the challenges with students’ mental health are at an all-time high.
“There are no options for our schools and students who need immediate support have nowhere to go,” Bonesteel said.
Her district just had to endure a hoax school shooting scare, and said they have invested an online platform that connects students with counselors. She added that superintendents across the state are trying to build their own regional crisis centers, but they are doing it out of a lack of resources and desperation.
“We have completely exercised the entire concept with doing more with less, to the extent that there is not much more stretch that can be done,” said Tiffany Moore, the school based program director at Washington County Mental Health Services
Vermont has implemented resources like the new national 988 hotline crisis hotline, but parents like Hackett-Fiske say they haven’t been enough and have had to look outside the state.
“Friends for survivors out in California does virtual meetings, as well as a group out of Ohio,” she said.