GREG MARLEY of NAMI Maine speaks at the first public gathering of the Midcoast Community Alliance in April.

GREG MARLEY of NAMI Maine speaks at the first public gathering of the Midcoast Community Alliance in April.

BRUNSWICK

Following a number of suicides in the Midcoast in recent years, community members are starting a dialogue about the sensitive topic and advocating for mental health awareness.

“What happened last year is, again, our community lost people to suicide,” said Midcoast Community Alliance Director Jamie Dorr. “So at that point, I was talking with Greg Marley from (National Alliance on Mental Illness Maine) and asked him what else could we be doing to ensure that this doesn’t happen again. Is there anything that we’re not doing as a community?”

Dorr, president of the Bath Youth Meetinghouse and Skatepark, formed the Midcoast

Community Alliance last summer as a way to respond to those deaths and to address the issues that lead to suicidal thoughts and feelings.

“There are groups such as the Midcoast Community Alliance … that are trying to go further” than post-vention support, said Marley. “And they’re saying, we recognize that we’ve had a problem over recent years with the number of suicide losses, and what can we do to increase resilience, to increase awareness of need and resources or help, and what can we do to build protective factors among our citizens. That’s some of what Jamie has set out to do.

“That requires a number of different parts of the community, not only just the community members and the schools, but health care providers and mental health care providers, absolutely law enforcement, and those aspects of the community that are supporting people outside of professional boundaries — so the churches, the shelters and soup kitchens. All those types of people,” he added.

“We started with Morse High School guidance, Bath Parks and Rec Department, the Bath YMCA and NAMI Maine,” said Dorr. “At that point, we identified that we needed to bring more people into the conversation.”

The group now boasts more than 30 members, from representatives of RSU 1 to Mid Coast Hospital to the local Young Life chapter.

Last Friday, dozens of volunteers from Midcoast Community Alliance surprised Morse High School students before the school day started, letting them know that they matter. The group handed out wristbands with positive messages and held encouraging signs.

The event was inspired by data gleaned from the Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey, which shows that in 2015, 19 percent of high school students in Sagadahoc County considered suicide in the past year, and nearly a third reported feeling so sad and hopeless every day for two weeks that they stopped engaging in some regular activities.

“When I saw that we had one-in-five of our students seriously considered suicide in the past 12 months, I knew we had to do something,” said Dorr.

Those numbers have remained relatively steady in the four Maine Integrated Youth Health Surveys that have been conducted every two years since 2009. Sagadahoc County has trended slightly higher than the rest of the state in that time, and both Sagadahoc County and the rest of the state have seen the percentage of high school students considering suicide increase slightly in 2013.

According to a 2016 report prepared for the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Sagadahoc County averaged five suicide deaths annually from 2010- 2012. A separate report found that in the 10-year period from 2003-2012, Sagadahoc averaged one suicide death annually for individuals aged 10-24.

“Sagadahoc seems to be elevated,” said Marley, though he noted Lincoln, Knox and Waldo counties were “three of the four highest rates around suicide for several years running.”

“We can look at why, and that’s where it gets complex,” he continued. “Certainly, those communities tend to have more short-term inflow/outflow, so there’s more transitional people than interior Maine, where’s there’s less movement in and out. There’s also, economically, more of a difference between the folks with good socio-economic supports and those without, so there tends to be extremes in both ends on the coast. In some areas it’s very desirable and therefore properties are quite high and other folks are really struggling to make ends meet.”

The group held their first public event at the end of April, where members gathered together at the Bath Parks and Recs building to hear stories from three people whose lives have been affected by suicide, or have battled with suicidal thoughts themselves.

“There are a lot of people who are trying to make a difference, and I think that if we can all learn from one another and advocate for one another, just again, creating awareness and educating on the responsible and safe way to talk about these subjects,” said Dorr.

One Midcoast Community Alliance member, Mid Coast Hospital, is offering Youth Mental Health First Aid training designed to help people interact with individuals ages 12-18 about mental health issues and to understand warning signs relating to mental health concerns. Registration is open for a free, upcoming training session on July 17, which will run from 8:15 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The Midcoast Community Alliance also has open meetings the last Tuesday of every month at 1 p.m. at the Bath Parks and Recs department. All are welcome.


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