History of Program

The MSPP is an initiative of the Governor's Children's Cabinet. It is based upon the assumption that collaboration among state agency leaders and staff with significant input from service providers, youth, suicide survivors and others is necessary to plan and conduct youth suicide prevention, intervention and postvention* activities. The MSPP is housed within, and directed by, staff of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention in the Department of Health and Human Services.

The original program plan was created in 1997 and involved an extensive process that included input from suicide survivors, youth, and a wide variety of clinicians and professionals from around the state. When program implementation began in 1998, every Children's Cabinet agency was instructed to include youth suicide prevention as a priority area using existing agency funds and assume leadership in implementing specific portions of the plan. In 1999, the Children's Cabinet provided some start-up funds to initiate program activities.

Since inception, the program has been guided by a diverse Steering Committee, with government and private stakeholders, which provides guidance and direction to program development and implementation. For the first seven years of the program, the MSPP "Action Committee," representing staff members of Children's Cabinet agencies who were charged with implementing and coordinating specific plan activities, met regularly. This group worked to implement and sustain a state level infrastructure. Many activities in the initial 1998 plan are still being implemented.

Current MSPP activities and resources include: 1) Statewide Information Resource Center; 2) Statewide Crisis Hotline; 3) Gatekeeper training and technical assistance for multiple audiences; 4) Awareness education programs and resources; 5) Training of trainers to conduct awareness education; 6) Annual suicide prevention conference; 7) School Protocol Guidelines to help schools establish administrative protocols for all facets of suicide prevention and intervention; 8) Training for high school health educators in teaching "Lifelines" student lessons; 9) Training for instructors in the Coping and Support Training curriculum for high risk youth; 10) Education regarding restriction of access to lethal means; 11) Media contagion education and guidelines; and 12) Suicide and self-inflicted injury data collection and tracking.

The MSPP has received regional and national recognition for its efforts and has given many presentations at regional and national conferences. Maine contributes to the national suicide prevention evidence base through its work, most notably through implementing and evaluating the Lifelines Program, a promising school-based program, with a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The project was implemented in 12 Maine high schools and ended in July 2006. The Lifelines Program operates under the assumption that a comprehensive approach is required to address the multi-faceted nature of suicide risk. Schools establish protocols, train key individuals as "gatekeepers", build staff awareness, create an environment that supports help seeking among students, develop agreements with mental health providers, and identify and assist students who may be at risk of suicide.

Evaluation of the Lifelines Program showed that administrators and staff members in project schools felt more prepared to prevent and respond to a crisis. Evaluation of classroom lessons indicated significant gains among students in knowledge, willingness to talk about suicide, and willingness to seek help. It is clear that one important way to further reduce the youth suicide rate in Maine is to expand implementation of the Lifelines Program statewide.

In 2008, Cheryl DiCara was honored with the prestigious Alex Kelter Vision Award from the State and Territorial Injury Prevention Directors Associaion (STIPDA).

*Note: postvention refers to a strategy or approach that is implemented after a crisis or traumatic event has occurred.