By Marx Aldrich, Arts & Culture Editor
This article discusses topics of suicide and mental health. It is understood that this may impact everyone differently. To connect with university support resources call the University Counseling Center at 207-780-4050. A list of other local and state resources and support can be found at the end of this article.
Sept. 10, 2018, is World Suicide Prevention Day. The week of Sept. 9 through Sept. 15 is National Suicide Prevention Week. This day and this week hold a lot of meaning and importance for me. In December 2010, my uncle, after years of struggling with untreated depression and anxiety, committed suicide. In August 2017 one of my good friends committed suicide. And just last year a member of the USM community was lost to suicide. Before my uncle, I didn’t think much about the topic of suicide prevention. I was aware of it sure, in a very loose and very general sense, but I hadn’t given it much care. And, I am ashamed to admit that I was not very vigilant in my efforts to be more aware, more educated and more proactive until more recently. All too often that is the case. People don’t think of prevention until after the fact. For many college students, struggles with mental health and suicide are part of their daily lives. It isn’t only college students though, friends, family members, and other loved ones also struggle with mental health. There is a lot that communities can do to support each other through those struggles.
The American College Health Association (ACHA) conducted a survey in 2016 which showed that 52.7 percent of students surveyed reported feeling hopeless, while 39.1 percent reported that feelings of depression were so severe that it was difficult to function. These numbers are based only on the students who chose to participate in the survey, meaning that many more students than those surveyed could be, and probably are, struggling in some way with mental health. Many people do not reach out or speak up when they begin to struggle. This is largely due to the stigma that is attached to mental health and seeking help.
According to the ACHA, approximately six percent of undergraduate students, and approximately four percent of graduate students have seriously considered suicide within the past year. Nearly half of them didn’t reach out. One in twelve college students have made a plan at some point, three out of every 200 students make an attempt and 1,100 college students are lost every year to suicide. The suicide rate among young adults has risen by over 200 percent in the past 50 years and that rate is still growing.
Being aware of the problem is not enough. We need to know the signs, we need to know the resources, and we need to know when we’ve hit our own limits and need support. We can’t always count on someone else to be observing the same things we do, so if we someone who isn’t doing well it’s up to us to check in with them. It’s better to have five people speak up and have it be unnecessary than to have no one speak up when it’s crucial. And we need to be breaking down the barriers of judgment between those who need help and the resources that could make the difference between a crisis and a tragedy. We need to try to not be afraid to reach out for ourselves either. No one is invincible. It is okay to not be okay. It’s also okay to need help and to reach out. You are not the only one who is struggling with mental health, and you are not alone.
Being aware of the signs is a good first step. Some of the common warning signs of someone who is struggling that the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) lists are: drastic changes in behavior; withdrawing from friends or social activities; losing interest in hobbies, work, school, other activities; giving away prized items; neglecting self-care and personal appearance; drastic changes in eating or sleeping patterns; being preoccupied with death and dying; talking about suicide, death, feeling trapped, or having no reason to live.
Knowing how to support someone who is feeling suicidal, or who is at risk for suicide, is key. Listen, without judgment. Let the person know that you’re there for them. Let them know about the resources available on, and off, campus. Offer to call a hotline with them or offer to walk down to the counseling center with them. If you suspect that someone is considering suicide, it’s okay to ask “are you thinking about suicide?” Asking that question doesn’t put the idea in their mind, it opens the door for a discussion that can start the process of getting help. One thing to avoid though is promising to keep it a secret. That isn’t a secret you should keep. Certainly don’t go around telling mutual friends or other people about it, but tell someone, whether that be one of the counselors, Public Safety, a Resident Assistant (RA), a Resident Director (RD) or someone else who can help. If someone is in immediate danger call 911, USM public safety (207-780-5211) or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-8255).
USM has taken steps to provide support for students and to ensure that many resources are available. In 2011, USM received the Garrett Lee Smith Memorial Grant for a suicide prevention project called USM CARES. The grant was used to provide suicide prevention training to faculty and staff, establish the Student Support Network which provides trainings to students and to provide other means of suicide prevention. With USM CARES, outreach from the USM Health and Counseling Center, programs and support groups at the Recovery Oriented Campus Center, raising awareness through programming and by having staff and faculty who genuinely care about the well-being of the students, USM has increased the likelihood of students getting the help that they need.
Please, don’t be afraid to reach out for help, for yourself, or for someone else. Be careful about how you talk about mental health and related resources, call people out when they talk about it in a demeaning way. It is a very serious concern and something that affects the lives of many people. Sometimes five minutes of someone’s time to just listen, offer hope and connect a person with resources can make all the difference. Other times it’s a longer and more difficult road. Listen to that gut feeling you get when someone seems to be not as okay as they say they are. Listen to your friends and loved ones when they say that they’re there for you. Because there are people who care. You are loved, you do matter and there is hope.
University Health and Counseling: 207-780-5411
Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255
Suicide Prevention Lifeline TTY: 800-799-4889
NAMI Statewide Crisis Line: 1-888-568-1112
Trevor Project (Transgender suicide prevention hotline): 1-866-488-7386
Trevor Project Textline (Mon-Fri 3pm – 10pm): Text TREVOR to 1-202-304-1200
Crisis Textline (for non emergency): 741-741
USM Public Safety: 207-780-5211