State should prepare now for 988 Lifeline access

By The Republican Journal Editorial Board | May 13, 2021

May is Mental Health Month, and if any issue deserves to be highlighted by such a designation, mental health is surely one. While there are many possible topics for an editorial on mental health, the one we want to focus on now is suicide prevention.

According to information on, suicide was the second leading cause of death in Maine and the United States among adolescents aged 10-24 and adults aged 24-34 from 2012 to 2014. During the same period, suicide was the fourth leading cause of death among adults in Maine and the U.S. aged 34-54.

And information on the Veterans Administration website shows that in 2017, the most recent year of available data, 48 Maine veterans died by suicide, compared to 675 in the Northeast Region, including New England, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and 6,139 across the nation. In all, 267 people died by suicide in Maine in 2017.

Last year, President Trump signed legislation under which the FCC will require phone companies to route calls to 988 to the federally funded National Suicide Prevention Lifeline crisis center (currently reached at 800-273-8255) by July 16, 2022. The agency is also considering requiring phone companies to allow callers to reach the number by text message.

The Lifeline provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, seven days a week, according to its website,

Through private donations to Vibrant Emotional Health, the Lifeline's website explains, the nonprofit that administers the Lifeline, grants were made available earlier this year to public health and mental agencies in 49 U.S. states and territories to plan for the development of infrastructure and operations necessary for the implementation of 988.

However, just like the 911 system, the state will have to find a way to fund the 988 system once it goes into effect. The time to develop that funding mechanism, and the legislation to support it, is now. We urge state legislators to do the necessary work to create the necessary laws and find the money to support this move to make support more accessible to those suffering a mental health crisis.

There is also a role for each of us to play in helping to prevent suicide.

As the Lifeline website says "Suicide is not inevitable for anyone. By starting the conversation, providing support, and directing help to those who need it, we can prevent suicides and save lives.

"Evidence shows that providing support services, talking about suicide, reducing access to means of self-harm, and following up with loved ones are just some of the actions we can all take to help others."

The site lists risk factors for suicide, including mental disorders, alcohol and substance abuse, hopelessness, a history of trauma or abuse, major physical illnesses, previous suicide attempt(s), family history of suicide, job or financial loss, loss of relationship, local clusters of suicide, isolation and lack of social support, stigma associated with asking for help, cultural or religious beliefs, lack of access to mental health or substance abuse treatment.

Equally important to be aware of are warning signs that someone may be at risk of suicide. They include:

• Talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves

• Looking for a way to kill themselves, like searching online or buying a gun

• Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live

• Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain

• Talking about being a burden to others

• Increasing their use of alcohol or drugs

• Acting anxious or agitated or behaving recklessly

• Sleeping too little or too much

• Withdrawing or isolating themselves

• Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge

• Extreme mood swings

According to the National Association for Mental Illness, one in four American adults suffers from a diagnosable mental illness in a given year. Let's make sure that help is just three digits away.

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