October 18, 2013

OUR OPINION: Suicide increase calls for outreach

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

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 U.S. will reach a record 40,000.

Among other jarring CDC findings was a spike in 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, already has committed itself to improving suicide-prevention services for adult. 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 risk factors and warning signs.

The suicide prevention program also encourages doctors to screen all patients for depression. Experts say a significant number of people who die by suicide had seen their family doctor weeks or months before their death. People in crisis may feel more comfortable contacting their physician 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 all can 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.

It's a small ste that could have a big impact on another person's life.

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