If you see the signs, don’t hesitate

Senator Marianne Moore discusses the problem of suicide in Maine and what we can do to learn its warning signs and help prevent it

By Senator Marianne Moore

It comes so suddenly that it leaves unsuspecting families devastated in its wake. It hits so forcefully that those affected by it are left forever scarred. It happens once every 11 minutes in the U.S., and it affects tens of thousands of Americans each year.

Sen. Marianne Moore – Washington

Hello, my name is Senator Marianne Moore of Washington County, and I’m joining you today for this week’s Republican Radio Address to talk about a topic that has taken too many lives in Maine. I want to discuss suicide.

September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and it highlights one of the toughest topics many don’t really want to talk about but we simply can’t avoid. I say that because we should want to explore why and how suicide happens in an effort to spare more families from being impacted by it.

When families suffer a loss through suicide, those who are left behind are often overwhelmed with feelings of pain, anger, betrayal, loss and even misplaced emotions of embarrassment, shame and guilt. Yet everyone is affected by a suicide, not just the victim. In addition to families, suicide impacts friends, classmates, students, teachers and even communities long after someone takes their life.

On average, two-thirds of those who die by suicide suffer from depression. And Maine ranks 11th highest in the nation and well above the U.S. average in suicides per 100,000 people. What’s more alarming is that it’s been a growing problem for decades.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics, about 1.2 million people attempted suicide and about 46,000 died in 2020, the latest year that figures are available nationally.

In Maine, 234 people died by suicide in 2020 and over 1,700 more who attempted it ended up in emergency rooms. While 2021 figures haven’t been finalized yet, suicide attempt-related ER visits rose across the state last year to about 1,900. And suicide has increased by 30 percent since 1999, which led to it becoming the second leading cause of death for those aged 15 to 44.

But I think another category of deaths affecting Maine, fatal drug overdoses, may also be an unwitting contributor to Maine’s suicide rate. In 2021, we experienced over 9,500 drug overdoses that resulted in 627 deaths. By its very nature, the knowledge of whether someone took drugs to end their life in any of those instances followed them to their death – that is, unless someone knew otherwise.

Yet drug addiction itself can be traced to the same untreated mental health problems that most often result in suicide, namely depression or anxiety. And access to the highly lethal synthetic opiate fentanyl gives those who may or may not be considering suicide a painless and unfortunately faster way to kill themselves than ever. And of the 230 confirmed drug overdose deaths already recorded in 2022, fentanyl is listed as the most frequent cause of death.

So while the rates of suicide and drug use are linked to Maine’s mental health crises, that also makes both the most preventable. The challenge for us as a state is increasing treatment access for those with underlying mental health conditions. The problem for many us personally, however, is being able to identify it.

Depression has often been called a silent killer – especially when ignored – and it can be difficult to detect since not all people who suffer from depression show signs of it. Taking the initiative when you do get a signal can be the difference between someone’s life and death.

I challenge you to embrace this month’s focus on suicide and learn to recognize the warning signs of suicidal behavior. More importantly, don’t be afraid to act. Simply talking to your loved one or friend and showing empathy is enough to prevent them from contemplation, and it gives both of you a chance to seek intervening counseling or treatment before it’s too late.

And if you are the one thinking about harming yourself, get help by calling 988 immediately. There is no shame in seeking help – it’s the bravest thing you can do.

Again, I am Senator Marianne Moore of Washington County; and I thank you for joining me for this very important topic.

Senator Marianne Moore is in her second term in the Maine Senate and represents the Washington and Hancock County communities of District 6. She is the Senate Republican Lead for the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee.

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