MAINE, Maine — Suicide is a tough word for some Mainers to hear, let alone talk about.
Rather than shying away from the topic, mental health professionals across the state urge people to, in fact, talk about it.
Nicholas Marold has been advocating for mental health care and suicide prevention since he was in high school. His guidance counselor died by suicide, and he organized a fundraising walk in his counselor's honor for his senior project.
“Nobody was really talking about it. Everybody for their senior projects was doing cancer walks or other [events] and I really just wanted to bring light to the subject," Marold said.
Marold then ran a similar event as a freshman at the University of Maine. He's now the Programs Manager for the Maine and New Hampshire chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
“In today’s age, people are starting to talk about mental health awareness. There are a lot more nonprofits that are open about it. More businesses are being open about talking with their employees which is why we have our new workplace module," he added.
The organization also works with Maine students and staff to share tips on self-care, how to find a trusted adult when challenges do arise, and mental health awareness in general.
According to NAMI Maine, the highest rates of suicide are among young adults ages 15-24 and middle-aged men. The nonprofit also works in Maine schools so students and faculty know what to do when they're concerned for themselves or someone else.
“We know suicide is one of the most stigmatized behaviors we have," NAMI's Senior Director of Suicide Prevention Greg Marley said. “Talking about it opens up that conversation so people know that help is there."
Mental health professionals, like Tori Wilcox and Crystle Eldridge, added it's okay not to be okay.
“When we do talk about it, then we can know we’re not alone, and there are people that care, and there are resources available and it kind of gives us that hope," Wilcox said.
Both Wilcox and Eldridge work as licensed clinical social workers at Northern Light Acadia Hospital in Bangor and work directly with patients to discuss their mental health challenges.
“We don’t have to give advice. We don’t have to fix it. If they need five minutes to come up with the answer, or if they just want to not talk about it, as long as they know you’re there," Eldridge added.
The two said it's important to ask direct questions if you're concerned about someone's mental health, including directly asking if someone is thinking about suicide or harming themselves.
"And if you ask that direct question, you’re going to get the direct answer. They might not always share the real answer, but at least you're opening up that conversation so they know they can [in the future]," Eldridge added.
Wilcox and Eldridge also said that since the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for mental health services has been great. While Mainers having mental health struggles is not new, they said more people are opening up about their challenges and looking to get help.
If you don't directly ask about suicide, they add, your loved one may never admit to having suicidal thoughts.
There are always resources available if you or someone you know is in a mental health crisis. You can always text or call the Nation’s Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 9-8-8. NAMI Maine also has its own helpline at 1-800-464-5767 & Press #1. There is also a nationwide text line that is available 24/7. That number is 741741. For a list of other resources, click here.
Suicide prevention events, Marold and Marley said, are also opportunities to help end the stigma around mental health, as people who have lost loved ones to suicide are able to come together and reaffirm the statement that "You Are Not Alone."
Marley also said NAMI Maine is working to educate people around the state about proper phrasing and language when talking about suicide. You can find that information here.
The AFSP hosts several "Out of the Darkness" walks across the state, including one in Fort Kent this Saturday. Also this weekend, the organization will be hosting a cornhole fundraising tournament in Portland.