Tag Archives: suicide prevention

Preventing Suicides in School

University of Maine journalism student Kendra Caruso recently joined us for a Suicide Prevention Workshop both to learn about suicide and to gather information for a journalism assignment.  We’re pleased she decided to share her work with us!


Preventing Suicides in School–
Highlighting a growing problem prevalent in Maine schools.

by Kendra Caruso

Walter Boomsma is a substitute teacher for the Piscataquis Community Elementary School.  He has experienced firsthand the reality of suicide among the adolescent in the state of Maine, it’s why he teaches the Suicide Awareness and Prevention workshop that’s free for the public to attend but required for all school personnel.

LD 609 was enacted into law on April 25, 2013 and requires anyone who works for a school system in the state of Maine to receive comprehensive training on suicide prevention that’s research based, from bus drivers to teachers.  Boomsma’s two-hour class meets the state mandate.  The course he uses is a collaboration between the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

In Maine suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15 to 34 year olds and 16.14 people die per 100000 residents compared to the national average of 13.26 in 2015 according to the CDC.

Boomsma talks about bullying as one of the leading causes of suicide among adolescents in his workshop and social media has made it easier for bullies to access their victims.  Boomsma talks about how to address a suicidal child being bullied.  Victims of bullying are two to nine times more likely to be suicidal than people who don’t experience bullying, according to a study by Yale University.

Hailey Cipullo of Abbot is an eighth grader at the Piscataquis Community Elementary School and has been the victim of bullying herself. She never experienced suicidal thoughts but lost a friend she went to a summer camp with to suicide because of bullying.  She didn’t even know her friend was experiencing suicidal thoughts.  Cipullo doesn’t blame herself for not realizing what her friend was going through.  Boomsma teaches not to self-blame for losing someone to suicide.

The LGBTQ community had a much higher risk for suicide ideation, 50 percent of bisexual youth experienced ideation and 25 percent attempted suicide, 40 percent of gay or lesbian youth experienced ideation and 21 percent attempted suicide, according to the Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey in 2013.  Youth in the LGBTQ community are more likely to become suicidal if they are rejected by family.

Men are more likely to die from suicide but women experience ideation more, for one male attempt there are three female attempts.  Men are more likely to kill themselves using violent means where women tend to us less violent acts such as taking pills according to the NAMI and CDC course collaboration.

Native American youth are more likely to experience suicidal thoughts with an average of 17 per 100000 residents compared to 12.1 for the whole US according to the NAMI and CDC course collaboration.

Boomsma experienced the tragedy of suicide first hand when his brother ended his own life but that’s not why he teaches this class.  He teaches this class because of the affect suicide has on Maine’s youth.

Boomsma spends a few minutes after class when he gets home and thinks about how he may have trained someone who will save a life, “I think to myself, I may have saved a life tonight.”

Focusing on Solutions

“Did you know that eating mashed potatoes causes Alzheimer’s?” During one of my annual checkups I told my doctor this–he looked at me in disbelief and asked why I thought that. I replied, “Well, everyone I know with Alzheimer’s has eaten mashed potatoes.”

He laughed and called me a statistical nihilist. I replied that I was merely trying to distinguish between “cause and correlation” since he had been citing some statistical risk factors I have. (This was, by the way, a very friendly conversation.)

With that background, I offer some statistics recently published by NAMI. With the notation that all statistics have limitations, I have confidence in their accuracy.


I do not “enjoy” publishing statistics like this and I confess I find myself sometimes wondering if their publication accomplishes the intent. If it’s not clear, the intent of this infographic is to encourage people to sign up for a Youth Mental First Aid Course.

I’ve taken it; it’s a good course and I highly recommend it. I truly believe, as the infographic suggests, it can help those who take it start a conversation that could save a life. Make no mistake, I’m not at all critical of the course or its intent. But if  I’m going to be totally honest, I firmly believe more is needed.

Without opening a debate about the causes of mental illness, what we are looking at here is identifying a high-risk population. The question that is not being asked is “Why?” and “Are there are actions we could be taking that will reduce that high-risk population?”

I’m a bit troubled by the medical community’s increasing reliance on statistics. The conversation I cited at the beginning took place in part because my doctor was assessing my risk factors for certain health issues. Because data is so readily available, it’s in danger of becoming the holy grail. What happened to science and simple logic?

But I digress, probably because I don’t fully understand our approach to suicide prevention. We are very focused on crisis intervention.  Again, that’s not a bad thing. But I see it as comparable to sending someone to the dentist when they have a toothache. Not a bad idea, certainly, but let’s not omit the importance of oral hygiene–aka brushing and flossing.

So why aren’t we teaching kids (and adults) how to “brush and floss” their minds? If we truly are committed to preventing suicide, can we back up and prevent the crisis?  In much the same way we can avoid trips to the dentist with good oral hygiene, we just might avoid some of those 5,240 attempts in grades 7 – 12 every year by teaching and encouraging good mental hygiene starting at a very early age.

I’ll repeat–crisis intervention is valid and important.  I’m simply using the occasion of “mental health month” to suggest we might be a bit more passionate, excited, and enthusiastic in some positive ways. If kids can learn how to take care of their teeth, they can learn how to take care of their minds.

Perhaps the bigger question is, “Can we teach them how?”

You Are Not Alone!

This may not be your style of music… but it is another way to deliver a very important message.  “You are not alone.” Don’t politicize it. Watch and listen… see the woman crying and hear messages like “What is a day without night.”

Register for my next free Suicide Prevention Workshop!

Suicide prevention resources on this website.

Thank you and Thank you!

I cannot resist sharing this email I received last night… and a little “secret” I have. Whenever I teach a Suicide Prevention Workshop, after I’ve packed up, I pause to look at the empty room and say, quietly to myself, “We may have saved a life tonight.”

No, we don’t always know the impact of what we say and do. But occasionally, something will happen that reminds us, “You’re doing good stuff.” This email is one of those somethings. I share it not to brag, but as a reminder of the importance to keep on doing “good stuff” and to point out that with emotional and mental issues, we shouldn’t just look for a crisis. We are supposed to connect and help each other all the time.

My husband and I are the proud parents of four kids – two young children and two teens.

Unfortunately, for the last year or so our daughter has been battling depression and an eating disorder. She’s been seeing a specialist for about six months now and is involved in lots of social activities, but she’s still having a hard time.

We really could use all the help we can get with her so I just wanted to thank you specifically for the information you’ve included on your [Suicide Prevention– 13 Reasons] page – the teen depression resources have been a huge help to us. In fact, our daughter watched 13 Reasons Why earlier this summer and I haven’t known how to talk to her about it so the link you included about the talking points has been great to reference as well.

To return the favor, I thought I would share another page that I found to be helpful http://onlinemph.unr.edu/mental-health-awareness-for-teens/ – this one talks about the importance of mental health awareness for teens which I thought could be a great addition to the resources you currently provide.

If it’s not too much trouble would you consider adding it to your page? I’m hoping that it will help others in similar situations and reduce the stress that comes with keeping our children safe.

Thanks again for the helpful information – enjoy your Labor Day weekend!

and my reply, in part:

Thank you so much for this email… Too often we approach suicide prevention and other mental health issues by waiting until there’s a crisis. I don’t see suicide prevention as only a matter of promoting a hotline–not that hotlines and crisis intervention aren’t important. But most mental health issues are a process, not an event. As you have said, “we really could use all the help we can get…” I think that is true for most of us–just in our daily lives. Obviously, it is even truer when there is an issue.

I’m glad to hear that your daughter is seeing a specialist… and that you are so actively involved in helping and supporting her. I’m not sure when you last visited the site, but I recently created a section on the resource page specific to high school and college students. I’m not sure how old your daughter is… but you might want to take a look at the booklet Starting the Conversation published by NAMI and the JED Foundation. While it is geared towards preparing for college emotionally, I suspect you could adapt some of the information and strategies to other ages. One of the things I particularly like about it is that it’s written to be used by parents and students together.

There are also some additional NAMI Resources geared to youth. If I can help you or your daughter find something specific, please let me know. As you surely know, it’s important that she feels connected (those social activities should be helping). There are some great TED Talks — a few are listed on my site — you might consider “pre-screening” some and then watching together. As for “13 Reasons Why,” it can be a tough conversation, but it is an important one. While I haven’t talked to a lot, the kids I’ve spoken with seem to have a good perspective on it. While much of what happens to Hannah seems real to them, most feel that the point of the series is dark entertainment and it does create an opportunity to start conversations. I think a value for parents is that it can help us understand and develop an appreciation for the stresses our kids are facing. I talked with one Mom who admitted she tried to watch the series and couldn’t–she found it too frightening and sad. I understand that, I think, but we also must face that which frightens us and makes us sad.

Thanks also for your suggested link. I took a quick look this morning and it does look like something I should include on the resource page. I’ll try to get it posted soon.

In taking care of your daughter, don’t forget to take care of yourself… I know that’s often said–to the point it seems obvious and perhaps trite. Take care of you! If you ever need an ear or a shoulder, do not hesitate to contact me… and I would love to hear how your daughter’s doing from time to time!