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Survey: Maine Students at Risk of Suicide, Bullying
01/08/2014   Reported By: Susan Sharon

A new survey finds that more than one out of every 10 students in middle and high school in Maine considered suicide last year. More than 63-thousand students responded to the questionaire which also finds that more that half of students in grades five through eight report being bullied. And as Susan Sharon reports, this is raising red flags on both fronts.

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Survey: Maine Students at Risk of Suicide, Bullyi
Originally Aired: 1/8/2014 5:30 PM

The good news is that the biennial survey of Maine students in grades five through 12 finds that kids are smoking and drinking less. Kids say they are having more conversations with their parents about substance abuse and report that it is harder for them to access marijuana and prescription drugs.

Dr. Sheila Pinette of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention says even though the survey is anonymous it can't be considered 100 percent accurate because the students are self-reporting. But it is one window into their world, and what it also shows is that nearly 17 percent of middle schoolers and nearly 15 percent of high schoolers feel so hopeless that they seriously considered suicide in 2013.

"I think everybody statewide needs to get involved on all levels," Dr. Pinette says.

Dr. Pinette says the survey is not something to be taken lightly. Kids were asked probative questions about their possible risks for suicide or suicidal behavior.

"Things like:  Are they feeling depressed? Have they used alcohol? Have they used drugs? Do they feel like they're a failure? Do they have access to lethal means of harming themselves? Do they feel they've had losses in relationships?" Dr. Pinette says.

Pinette says the latest responses by kids about their state of mind are comparable to what they said in earlier surveys in 2011 and 2009. What has changed is the number of kids who report being bullied. That number has gone up in elementary and middle school where half of respondents say it's been a problem for them.

About a quarter of all high school students also report being bullied. This, despite new initiatives to prevent bullying and raise more awareness about its effects. Pinette says it's unclear whether bullying has a direct link to students' thoughts about suicide.

We can't actually answer that question about whether the percentage of suicides in our state are directly related to bullying because the data that was requested does not have a direct causal relationship," she says.

Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death for Mainers, accounting for about 180 deaths every year. The state is taking steps to try to prevent students from harming themselves. Earlier this year, Gov. Paul LePage signed a law that will require all school staff to participate in suicide prevention training.

Pinette says anyone in crisis or showing signs of suicidal behavior should be encouraged to contact a mental health professional, or to call (888)568-1112.


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