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May is Mental Health Awareness Month

Experts say suicide prevention requires everyone in a child's life to be aware, connected and ready to step in.

Experts say the isolation, grief and anxiety some teens and pre-teens have endured during the pandemic has caused sharp declines in their mental health.

NAMI Maine reports that in 2019 and 2020, the number of suicides among teens and pre-teens in the nation went down but the number of attempted suicides went up, especially among girls. Social worker Greg Marley is with NAMI Maine. He trains school staff to recognize and address risk in students. Marley says suicide prevention requires everyone in a child's life to be aware, connected, and ready to step in.

"Break that sense of isolation, that feeling of 'I'm alone'. Show them regard or concern," Marley said. "Ask them straight up, 'Are you thinking of ending your life?' If they say, 'Yes, or maybe or sometimes', then you are the warm handoff. You connect them with that next level of support, and you follow up."

Marley says building trust with a troubled child is vital to his or her willingness to accept help. The state of Maine requires suicide prevention training for all staff that work in schools. Staff start working with students in 5th grade, because peers are often the first to recognize a friend is hurting and ask an adult for help.

If finding a counselor is a challenge, NAMI suggests starting with the family doctor, as many practices have counselors on staff.

The Maine Crisis Line is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Call 1-888-568-1112 for help.

Carol Bousquet