All posts by Walter

Substance Abuse Text Helpline Available

The following information is reprinted with permission from an e-newsletter published by Paul Stearns, Representative of Maine District 119.


The Department of Health and Human Services, in collaboration with 2-1-1 Maine and the United Ways of Maine, recently unveiled a new texting service in an effort to facilitate communications for those seeking access to opioid treatment services.

When you text your zip code to 898-211, a Maine-based information specialist will be notified that a new transaction has been received.  The person requesting assistance will receive an automated “Thank you for contacting 2-1-1” response and can immediately begin their dialogue with the trained and friendly specialist.

Initially, the text line will be available from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m., Monday-Friday.  If an individual is in need of assistance outside of those hours, they will receive a text response encouraging them to dial 2-1-1 and speak with an information specialist.  DHHS launched the 24/7 Opiate Helpline in April of 2016 through a contract with 2-1-1 Maine with a focus on pregnant women and young mothers seeking treatment.

In a recent study, Millennials expressed more interest in texting compared to calls, because texting is a less invasive form of communication.

This will also help address a concern voiced by some seeking treatment—the stigma attached to substance use disorder.  With the attention surrounding the opioid epidemic facing our state, many people are intimidated by the idea of participating in an open dialogue about their treatment needs over the phone.

Providing this service furthers the Department’s efforts to offer a more comprehensive, accessible approach for those seeking treatment.

2-1-1 Maine is a free resource providing an easy confidential way to connect people to information about thousands of health and human services around Maine.  2-1-1 Maine is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week by phone and online, and available via text from 8:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m., Monday-Friday.  People can access information and resources in their area by dialing 2-1-1 and talking with a trained and friendly specialist, by texting their ZIP code to 898-211, or by searching the online directory at www.211maine.org.

Don’t Panic: Get the Facts…

Today at school, I was asked about “Blue Whale” — an alleged social media phenomena that is supposedly “going viral” and encouraging teens to commit suicide. Since I am teaching a Suicide Prevention Workshop tonight I thought I’d better do some quick checking in case it comes up.

One thing for certain, the media is having a field day with it. Many of the headlines and claims in the articles being published turn out to be “unproven.”  There is general agreement an “ap” (game) originated in Russia that encourages “vulnerable” teens to engage in a series of tasks (like cutting) and allegedly ends with them taking their own life.  The word “vulnerable” is very important in that sentence.

A game will not “cause” someone to commit suicide. Certainly, a game such as this is cause for concern, but it is not cause for panic. There actually have been no conclusive links between suicides and the game. It is interesting that this story was first picked up by the tabloids–they are known for their accurate reporting, right?

What can happen is that a person already having suicidal thoughts may find a game or group that they perceive shares their thoughts and feelings. The roots of those thoughts and feelings are not caused by joining a group or playing a game. It is interesting that this story was first picked up by the tabloids–known for their accuracy!

The energy that will be spent warning people about this “Blue Whale” would be better spent developing a basic understanding of suicide and it’s prevention. Most of the workshops I offer are free and are research-based. We need to understand and focus on protective factors and the fundamental causes. Personally, I believe early intervention is going to be the key to correcting this public health crisis.  When we understand the risk factors and triggers we can recognize the need.

The techniques covered in the workshop are basic and relatively simple. Perhaps not quite as simple as clicking “share” on Facebook, but they are about sharing.

One of the better “fact checking” sites is here, but you might be better served to research the facts regarding suicide and how you can help prevent it. The life you save may belong to someone you love.

Maine Public Offers Workshop for High School Writers

Maine Public and the Maine Writing Project are offering a free two-week workshop for young writers to hone their skills, called Raise Your Voice Workshop. The workshop will provide a forum for seasoned writers and teachers to share their experiences with the students. Participating students will develop writing and multimedia that will be featured on the Raise Your Voice! Web page. It also may be aired on Maine Public Radio. The program will take place from July 24-August 4 at three locations including Baxter Academy for Science and Technology in Portland, Thomas College in Waterville and the University of Maine in Orono from 8:30 AM to Noon each day. To apply, go to mainepublic.org under the Education tab, or contact Education Program Coordinator Dave Boardman at RaiseYourVoice@mainepublic.org or call 423-6934.

Just How Busy Are You, Really?

“If you don’t pay appropriate attention to what has your attention, it will take more of your attention than it deserves.”

David Allen

Well, that quote got my attention! The article it was in was about productivity–something that’s been weighing on my mind during what is traditionally one of my busiest months of the year. The article also mentioned a recent article in The Atlantic  suggesting that being busy may have become a status symbol.

I’m chuckling at the thought I currently have lots of status.

In a more serious vein, let’s go back to the quote. I think it, like most good quotes, gives rise to a number of thoughts and considerations.

I’ve always believed that there really aren’t time management problems–there are priority issues. Too often we are not conscious of what is getting our attention. I recently emailed someone for some fairly simple information I needed. When I didn’t get a reply, I emailed again. This time I received a fairly lengthy explanation for his failure to reply–he explained that he is extremely busy. What I found most interesting about his reply was that he could have given me the information in the amount of time it took for him to explain how busy he was, but he didn’t. Isn’t that interesting? I can accept that my needs may not be a priority, but I’d like a little honesty.

I think his failure to provide had less to do with how busy he was and more to do with him judging my need didn’t make it to his priority list.

Some time management/productivity gurus suggest managing energy rather than time. I’ve found that’s a great way to justify procrastination. “I don’t have the energy right now, so I’ll do something else.” For that matter, it works the same with time. “I don’t have enough time to do that (even though it’s really important) so I’ll wait until…” It’s certainly not hard to find reasons not to do things!Notice, though, procrastination is still about priorities. All we’re really doing is justifying the shifting our priorities.

Notice that procrastination is still about priorities. All we’re really doing is justifying shifting our priorities. That may be okay, but let’s recognize and admit that we’re doing it. We can at least be honest with ourselves.

When we’re less than honest with ourselves–that’s when we end up giving things more attention than they deserve. Anyone who’s ever tried to have an important or urgent conversation with someone who is constantly checking their smartphone and answering text messages knows exactly what I mean. And that’s just an example.

What does have your attention? Is that what’s important to you?

How busy are you, really?

Would three of my friends please…?

This post is appearing on Facebook… almost to the point of going viral. That’s certainly not a bad thing, but my question is a little different.

Would three of my friends please attend a free two-hour workshop that will help you understand some facts about suicide and some very simple steps you can take to help prevent it?

You can do more than just provide a phone number!

I currently have two free workshops scheduled:

  • Thursday, May 11, 2017, at Bangor Grange, 1192 Ohio Street in Bangor, starting at 6:30 p.m.
  • Tuesday, May 16, 2017, at Guilford United Methodist Church, 3 School Street in Guilford starting at 6:30 p.m.

Both workshops are free–all it costs is two hours of your time–admittedly a little more than copying and pasting a phone number, but in return for those two hours you’ll be able to help stem this crisis.  93% of students who’ve attended my class say they feel more confident about being able to recognize suicide warning signs and risk factors. 85% left feeling better equipped to help someone might seem suicidal.

And you’ll get a magnet that includes both the National and Maine Hotline Numbers as well as lots of resource material. In order to ensure we have plenty of material, we do ask you to pre-register by visiting our website or calling 343-1842.

Suicide Hotline #

But wait, there’s more! A third workshop is available through the RSU 19 Adult Education Program on Tuesday, May 2, 2017, at Nokomis High School in Newport. There is a small charge for this program… for more information or to register, visit http://rsu19.maineadulted.org/ or call 207 368-3290.

And even more! Did you know that you can report Facebook Posts that seem to reflect suicidal thoughts?  Here’s how!


Walter Boomsma is Gatekeeper trained and a NAMI (National Alliance for Mental Illness) Certified Mental Health Specialist for Youth and Adults. He is also an experienced educator and substitute elementary school teacher.