Helping those who hurt

For most of us it may be unthinkable, yet it’s probably touched our lives or the lives of those we know at some point. 

September, which ushers in fall and brilliantly colors our surroundings, is also National Suicide Awareness Month.

The first time I heard that someone I knew had died by his own hand, it made me reel with shock and horror that I remember to this day. But such a loving family, I thought, and he was so vibrant and had so much to live for … why? How could this happen?

The Maine Suicide Prevention Program said in a recent update that 227 people die by suicide every year in Maine. Data they collected through the previous year revealed that statewide, 31,420 adults thought of suicide, while 15 percent of high school students and 16 percent of middle school students considered ending their lives. 

Even more frightening, the data say suicide is the fourth leading cause of death among Mainers ages 10-14 and 35-54, but the second leading cause of death for 15- to 34-year-olds.

But those are cold statistics. It’s what’s behind the numbers that rips holes in families, friendships, workplaces and classrooms, because behind the statistics are people. Some young, some not so young, but all of them sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, nieces, nephews, grandchildren, friends, students, employees, veterans, church members … each one of them a life snuffed out like wind smites a candle flame, leaving darkness.

The emotions someone must feel when considering ending their life have to be enormous, complex and frightening. 

So what can we do? How can we help?

The National Institute of Mental Health offers five action steps to help someone who you suspect may be in emotional pain: 1. Ask if the person is considering ending their life; 2. Keep them safe by trying to keep them away from lethal substances or places; 3. Be there — listen carefully to what they are thinking and feeling; 4. Help them connect with help; and 5. Stay connected by following up with them after they have had a crisis.

No matter how inadequate or out of touch we may feel, we can all make a difference. Every one of us. And sometimes you never know the seeds of encouragement you may plant, or the healing a smile can bring. 

Just the other day a young person at a local place of business thanked me for being kind. Imagine: something that seems run-of-the-mill to us can touch another person in ways we can’t fathom.

There is no substitute for human interaction. Despite ubiquitous technology and the social distancing necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s a basic human need to know we matter to other people. 

No, we can’t always tell who might be hurting, and when. We can’t turn the tide on everyone’s pain or where it might lead them.  

But we can try to show others that they matter.  We can smile. We can say “thank you” to the person who hands us food or drink. We can simply ask “How are you doing today?,” share a laugh or commiserate about the weather. 

And by doing so, we try, in the most mundane of ways, to shine a light. 

Aroostook Mental Health Services is available to anyone experiencing a crisis. To access their Mobile Emergency Services team please call or text the Maine Crisis Line at 1-888-568-1112.  

Paula Brewer is assistant editor for The Star-Herald, Aroostook Republican, Houlton Pioneer Times and St. John Valley Times, plus websites TheCounty.ME and FiddleheadFocus.com. She can be reached at 207-764-4471 or via email at pbrewer@bangordailynews.com.

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