October 18, 2013

Our View: To stem suicide epidemic, reach out to those at risk

In a state with a high number of people in a vulnerable age group, we can all take part in efforts to address a spike in the adult suicide rate.

Suicide is an act reflective of private pain that has come to have enormous public health implications.

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A sense of isolation has been identified as one of the key red flags of a suicide attempt.

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More Americans now die by their own hand annually than are killed in car crashes, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control. In 2010, more than 38,000 people took their own lives, a CDC report has found; that same year, fewer than 34,000 died in motor vehicle accidents. This year, researchers estimate, the number of suicides in the United States will reach a record 40,000.

Among other jarring CDC findings was a spike in the rate of suicides among the middle-aged. With this in mind, we find hope in the fact that Maine, the state with the highest proportion of baby boomers in the nation, has already committed itself to improving adult suicide-prevention services. Our state has been held up as a model for its youth suicide-prevention policies; we also need to lead the way in outreach to at-risk adults.

Starting in 2010, the state expanded the focus of the Maine Suicide Prevention Program to preventing suicide among people of all ages. Much of the program’s work centers on providing education and training in schools and to groups of adults, informing employers, veterans groups, church organizations, first responders and others about suicide risk factors and warning signs.

The suicide prevention program encourages doctors to screen all patients for depression by asking nine simple questions, making more specific queries when the answers indicate someone’s at risk.

Experts say a significant number of people who die by suicide had seen their family doctor weeks or days before their death. People in crisis may feel more comfortable contacting their physician – a familiar face – than risking the stigma of talking to a mental health therapist.

Maine recognizes that effective suicide prevention strategies have to involve the whole community. We can all help ease the sense of isolation that has been identified as one of the key red flags of a suicide attempt. If you encounter a person at risk – a neighbor, a family member, a fellow church member – reach out to that person. Let him or her know about the 24-7 suicide prevention crisis hotline – 1-888-568-1112. These are small steps that could have a big impact on another person’s life.

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