ELLSWORTH — It’s a difficult subject even for trained professionals, but it’s important to talk openly and directly about suicide.
That was the message at SuicideTALK, a discussion led by Tara Young, a program coordinator at Healthy Acadia, at the Ellsworth Public Library on Monday afternoon.
“We’ve got to work on integrating chances to talk about suicide into our daily lives,” Young told program participants, many of whom work in health care or local schools.
“It has to be clear and direct,” Young said. “Are you thinking about suicide?” She added that research has shown that “asking them about it will not put the idea in their head.”
Maine has a higher rate of suicide than the national average, a number that has trended upward in recent years, according to data from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The suicide rate among Maine youth (ages 10 to 24) is also higher than the national average.
In Hancock County, said Young, “18 percent of middle school girls and 16 percent of high school girls said they had serious thoughts of suicide in the past year,” according to the 2017 Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey.
Those numbers are slightly lower for boys (with 14.5 percent of middle school boys and 10 percent of high school boys reporting serious thoughts of suicide), said Young, although boys are more likely to die by suicide.
When to start discussing suicide with a child varies depending on the family’s situation.
“I think it depends on the child,” Young said.
If a child makes statements such as “I wish I could go to sleep and not wake up,” she said, that may be an appropriate time to discuss anxiety or depression. “We need to have those conversations before it becomes an issue with them or their friends.”
“One of the most important things to remember is that you don’t have to be an expert to listen to somebody and say ‘I don’t have all the answers but we can find help together’,” Young said. “It’s probably a good idea to start having those conversations with the young people in our lives.”
Discussing suicide more openly can help de-stigmatize the issue, said Young, adding that research has shown that frank discussion of the topic does not increase the risk of self-harm.
“Our culture is very much built on we need to take care of our own problems, we need to be self-reliant. It’s hard to ask for help.”
But most people who are thinking about hurting themselves want help, said Young, even if they don’t know how to ask for it.
“We tend to be, in our culture, fixers,” Young said. “We need to really listen to what they’re saying so that we can help them get the resources that they need.”