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Hike in Suicide Rates Concerns Maine Officials
11/13/2012   Reported By: Patty B. Wight

The suicide rate in the U.S. has increased markedly since the recession, according to a new report. Researchers in the U.S., Britain, and Hong Kong examined data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and determined the rate of suicides more than quadrupled from 2008 to 2010. As Patty Wight reports, that trend is reflected in Maine's numbers as well.

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The study found that prior to 2008, the suicide rate in the U.S. increased at an average yearly rate of .12 deaths per 100,000 people. Then, In 2008, the rate jumped to an average of .51 deaths per 100,000 people.

"It's concerning," says Maine Suicide Prevention Coordinator Cheryl DiCara. "It's fairly complicated. There's not any one simple answer for why this is happening."

DiCara says there can be many contributing factors that drive someone to take their own life, and financial instability has to be considered as one of them.

"So if you've got a family or an individual who is dealing with a mental illness, or dealing with substance abuse or suicidal behaviors, they're dealing with that no matter what the economy is doing," DiCara says. "But in difficult economic times, it's likely to make what they're dealing with on a day-to-day basis anyway more challenging."

Both nationally and in Maine, the demographic linked with the highest number of suicides is middle-aged men. Part of this may be because men are less likely to use mental health resources than women. But Ann Haas of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention says she's starting to see a shift in the statistics: an increase in suicide among middle-aged females - again, both nationally and in Maine.

"As women have taken on more of the kinds of work roles that in the previous generation were associated only with men, we do see that women are having some mental health consequences, just as men have had them," Haas says.

The rise in suicides is not unique to the U.S. - it's been found in other countries affected by the recession, such as Britain, Spain, and Greece. But the report states that some countries have been able to avoid increases through programs that provide social support and mental illness prevention.

Dr. Kristine Bertini, a senior psychologist at the University of Southern Maine, says the U.S. should learn from those countries.

"You know, mental health concerns and mental health issues have long been put sort at the bottom of the barrel and have been minimized," Bertini says. "And some of that is because there's such shame around it for people that they don't want to acknowledge it."

But things are starting to change in Maine. While the state has been considered a leader in youth suicide prevention, there's now a new focus on adults. And the state is expanding the locations where services are delivered.

Cheryl DiCara, of the Maine Suicide Prevention Program, says those who are having suicidal thoughts often give multiple warning signs, but may exhibit those signs in different environments. So the prevention program is not only targeting at-risk individuals, but doing trainings in work places and doctors' offices.

"We'd like to have everyone know that they could play a role, potentially, in saving a life," she says. "And it's only going to be by everyone feeling that they can do something to help if they observe someone who seems to be suicidal, that we're going to really reduce this problem in our state."

Its not only about awareness, says DiCara, but removing stigma as well.

Learn more about suicide prevention.




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