Working on Wellness: Students and suicide

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By Liza Little, Psy.D, Director of Counseling Services & Samantha Seebode, Graduate Assistant and Suicide Prevention Coordinator

We don’t often think about suicide and spring, but suicide rates tend to go up this time of year. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15 to 24 year olds in Maine.

In a survey of 428 USM students who sought treatment at the University Health and Counseling Services for the 2017-2018 school year, 41 percent reported having considered suicide one or more times, 16 percent having considered it within the last year and 8 percent reported history of one suicidal attempt. 38 percent reported history of self-injury. Of every five suicides, four are males. Of every 100 attempts, 70 are females. Of every 10 suicides, four are by firearm and four are by hanging. These are the grim statistics of suicide.

Suicide is a difficult thing to talk about. It’s a very sensitive matter that often falls into a category of unspoken topics. People are under the impression that by talking about suicide, it may cause someone to think about suicide and ultimately end up acting on the thought. However, what people don’t realize is that if someone is at the point where they are already having suicidal thoughts, they won’t be giving them the idea because it’s already there.

The majority of students state that they would be most likely to share suicidal thoughts with a peer before anyone else. 80 percent of students who die by suicide are not in counseling. This means that many of our students become the first responders to other students in distress. What can you do for a peer or friend that is in distress?

The first step is noticing and observing that something is off in the other person. The person may have begun to withdraw and isolate or stopped going to classes. Some students become so depressed that getting out of bed is a chore. Some students drink too much and try to numb their pain. Some students are open about their struggles with mental illness and their substance use and will say they are having thoughts of suicide.

Noticing these changes requires a response. Try to talk to the person. Let them know that you care. Let them know that there is help and that you will be there for them. Counseling Services offers care for the mental health needs of students, addresses crises and teaches coping strategies to manage suicidal thoughts. Contact us if you are worried about a student or a friend.

You can also contact a resident assistant, residential director or a faculty or staff person at USM and they will help you find help for that person. There is much stigma around suicide that people often feel they
need to hide that they are thinking this way. It’s okay to ask directly, “Are you having thoughts about suicide?”

Some of you have already saved a life this year and stepped in to help out. I have met some of you and am always humbled by your courage to listen, to respond and to act even when your friend or peer may get angry with you. You have used humor, gentle persuasion and your own inner strength to bring students into counseling, to alert your RAs and RDs, to reach out to faculty or staff and to stand up for your friends in distress. Thank you for your courageous kindness.

Counseling Services are available on all three USM campuses and can be reached by calling
780-4050. We have a website full of information, resources and help on various topics on the
USM portal.

After hours, we have Cumberland County Crisis Services available at 207-774-HELP to talk
with you or your friends about whatever is going on in the moment. They help make safety plans
and come to the dorm or your home if needed.

There are websites like Free 2 Luv, The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and NAMI
that have important resources.

There will be suicide prevention training for USM students at the ROCC on April 16 from 10
a.m. to 12:30 p.m. All are welcome. Our suicide prevention coordinator, Samantha Seebode, will
come talk to any USM group to teach helpful bystander skills. Just contact Counseling Services.

Taking care of each other is one of our highest forms of humanity. Thank you for reading this.

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