Death and dying are on the list of topics few people enjoy talking about. Going further, suicide is one of the most taboo issues in our society. As a whole, we need to stop being so fearful of discussing suicides, depression and other mental health topics.

More specifically, the State of Maine needs to increase responsiveness around suicide and mental illness. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in Maine youth and teens (Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2018). Every 10 days yet another Maine youth dies by suicide, which is a higher rate than the national average (Blanchard, 2019). Teens within the LGBTQ community experience even higher rates of suicide compared to their heterosexual peers (NewsRx, 2011).

Danielle Miville

When there is the unexpected loss of a child or teenager, people search for a reason or something to blame. Bullying, social media, anxiety and depression are all common culprits associated with youth suicide. What many do not realize is that a poor economy and its associated stressors, such as the lack of resources and funds for mental health programs, are also major risk factors (The Associated Press, 2019).

This is pertinent because Maine is vastly rural with multiple low-income areas. Many of the communities lack mental health resources, primarily due to limited funding and lack of accessibility. We can place some blame on bullying or education, and yes they do play a role in the increased rate of adolescent suicides, but the reality is our state is not properly equipped to meet the mental health needs of our youth.

There are many policies and upcoming funding opportunities to help reduce Maine youth suicide, all of which are in need of our communities’ support. We have been exporting children with serious mental health needs out of state, away from his/her support systems. This is because we cannot or have not funded and staffed residential programs or other mental health services (Farwell, 2019).

Mental health jobs are not paid enough to keep up with today’s cost of living and education, resulting in numerous vacancies within the social services field. Improved compensation for people able to provide services and support to our youth is vital. We also need backing from state government to implement policies and bills, such as LD 984, a bill planning to return displaced children to Maine.

Maine adolescents and teens need to be home, which is why the State of Maine needs to provide more adequate mental health treatment.

Additionally, creating a more accepting and prepared culture will help decrease youth suicide in Maine. Educating the community on the warning signs, providing services, and de-stigmatizing mental illness are all measures that we could be taking. Stigma often deters people from seeking treatment, especially youth and those in minority groups (Clement et al., 2015).

Schools have programs discussing the effects of bullying and have “zero-tolerance policies,” but that is not enough. There needs to be education on mental health diagnoses, how it is okay to not be okay, and how to access available resources. In addition to this, some light needs to be shed on how school policies, such as those surrounding school lunch payments, can be more harmful and humiliating than helpful (Siegel, 2017).

Mostly, people need to talk. Talking about suicide will not make people suicidal; it may help them feel more comfortable sharing how they’re feeling, especially if they have non-judgmental, direct supports trying to help them (Boston Children’s Hospital, 2019). Creating an environment where kids can feel safe expressing their feelings and receive support rather than ignored or treated as an inconvenience would drastically help youth feel less alone and out of options.

There are answers to the issue of Maine youth suicide. It is important that we fund and staff plenty of programs for all youth, especially those with mental health needs, low-economic status, and within minority groups. It is also important to create a culture that supports those with mental health needs rather than stigmatize and isolate them.

Instead of pointing fingers we all need to join hands and provide a safer environment for these youth.

Danielle Miville is a student working toward a master’s degree in social work. She lives in Poland.

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