No one likes to be reminded of the fact that some Maine youth are contemplating killing themselves.
Suicide is an uncomfortable topic to discuss. Burying a problem, though, doesn’t make it go away. “When you don’t talk about it, you give it power,” said Greg Marley, clinical director of Maine’s chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
A recent Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey makes that clear: The public health problem is as prevalent here as it is elsewhere in the U.S.
About 15 percent of high school students surveyed, or 8,218, said they had considered attempting suicide at some point in the previous year. A distressing 40 percent of gay and lesbian students, 50 percent of bisexual students, and 20 percent of students questioning their sexual orientation — about 1,963 total — said they had considered suicide.
Over time, Maine schools and communities have become safer places for young people. The rate of high school students considering, planning or attempting suicides dropped between 1997 and 2007. But it has been increasing ever since. The state can do much more to ensure the safety of its young people, especially for those at greater risk.
Last spring, Maine lawmakers unanimously passed LD 609, An Act to Increase Suicide Awareness and Prevention in Maine Public Schools, which requires educators to be trained to recognize signs a student may be contemplating suicide. Sponsored by Rep. Paul Gilbert, D-Jay, the legislation is crucial to generating awareness at schools.
The public could benefit from increased awareness, too.
Youth who do not feel safe, perhaps because they are bullied, are at increased risk for suicide, though bullying doesn’t cause suicide, Marley explained. Similarly, having major depression, anxiety or a psychotic disorder, abusing substances or isolating oneself doesn’t mean people will kill themselves, but it puts them at increased risk. The underlying causes of suicides are complex.
Friends and family should never ignore the warning signs. If a loved one is isolating himself, increasing his substance use, or making statements about feeling lost or how life doesn’t matter, don’t pretend the situation will get better if you ignore it.
Instead say, “I’m worried about you. What can I do to help?”
If someone brings up his suicidal thoughts when drinking, don’t dismiss it as the alcohol talking. He may have just gotten the nerve to discuss the subject.
Make sure young people can be themselves. Acceptance of someone’s sexuality isn’t just good for basic well-being, it can reduce that person’s risk of suicide. Everyone has a responsibility to promote a culture that accepts young people for who they are.
Who in your life have you worried about over the past year? Have you said anything?
If you’re worried someone might be suicidal but don’t feel you can ask them about it, make sure someone else asks. Call the statewide crisis line, manned 24 hours a day, at 888-568-1112. It’s a good place to call if you’re concerned about someone and don’t know what to do.
Or consider educating yourself.
NAMI Maine provides suicide prevention gatekeeper training for anyone who wants to learn the basics of suicide prevention and intervention. The organization also provides suicide prevention awareness training for groups — businesses, schools, first responders, faith entities — about suicide prevention and resources available for those at risk of suicide. Visit www.ccsme.org/train/suicideprevention to see upcoming trainings or to bring one to your workplace.
Suicide is not normal. Most young people do not seriously consider dying by suicide, and, of those who do, most do not attempt it. If a loved one or friend is considering it, he or she needs help. Suicide is not an inexplicable act, and it’s not caused by stress. It’s often prompted by many complex factors, and each case is different. It can be prevented. So talk about it. Make it your responsibility.