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September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

I was talking with a neighbor of mine this morning about the recent tragic passing of a young local school teacher by suicide.  My condolences to the family, friends, colleagues, students, parents & community members who have been affected by this sudden loss – may peace and strength be yours as you mourn.

We cannot change what has happened but what we can do is learn & take action toward solutions moving forward.  So today, tomorrow & the next day let us find ways to talk more openly about what it’s like to experience mental illness & what we can do when ourselves or someone we know is feeling depressed, hopeless or feeling that life is no longer worth living.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that more than 41,000 individuals die by suicide each year and can affect anyone:

Suicidal thoughts, much like mental health conditions, can affect anyone regardless of age, gender or background. In fact, suicide is often the result of an untreated mental health condition. Suicidal thoughts, although common, should not be considered normal and often indicate more serious issues.

The shame & stigma attached to mental health issues & suicide often prevent those who are suffering mentally & emotionally from talking to someone or seeking help for their pain.  The creation of September’s  #SuicidePreventionMonth is designed to change that by:

  • Sharing resources & stories in an effort to shed light on these highly taboo and stigmatized topics
  • Reaching out to those affected by suicide
  • Raising awareness and connect individuals with suicidal ideation to treatment services
  • Ensuring that individuals, friends and families have access to the resources they need to discuss suicide prevention
  • Giving people tools, resources & avenues to help when they need it most

What can I, you, we do to help?

  1. Know about crisis resources.  If you or someone you know is in an emergency, call 911 immediately.  If you or someone you know are in crisis or are experiencing difficult or suicidal thoughts, call the #NationalSuicideHotline at 1-800-273 TALK (8255) immediately.  If you’re uncomfortable talking on the phone, you can also text NAMI to 741-741 to be connected to a free, trained crisis counselor on the Crisis Text Line.
  2. Know the warning signs for suicide:
    • Threats or comments about killing themselves, also known as suicidal ideation, can begin with seemingly harmless thoughts like “I wish I wasn’t here” but can become more overt and dangerous
    • Increased alcohol and drug use
    • Aggressive behavior
    • Social withdrawal from friends, family and the community
    • Dramatic mood swings
    • Talking, writing or thinking about death
    • Impulsive or reckless behavior
  3. Assess for imminent danger.  Any person exhibiting these behaviors should get care immediately:
    • Putting their affairs in order and giving away their possessions
    • Saying goodbye to friends and family
    • Mood shifts from despair to calm
    • Planning, possibly by looking around to buy, steal or borrow the tools they need to complete suicide, such as a firearm or prescription medication
  4. Know the risk factors for suicide.  Research has found that about 90% of individuals who die by suicide experience mental illness. A number of other things may put a person at risk of suicide, including:
    • A family history of suicide.
    • Substance abuse. Drugs and alcohol can result in mental highs and lows that exacerbate suicidal thoughts.
    • Intoxication. More than one in three people who die from suicide are found to be currently under the influence.
    • Access to firearms.
    • A serious or chronic medical illness.
    • Gender. Although more women than men attempt suicide, men are four times more likely to die by suicide.
    • A history of trauma or abuse.
    • Prolonged stress.
    • Isolation.
    • Age. People under age 24 or above age 65 are at a higher risk for suicide.
    • A recent tragedy or loss.
    • Agitation and sleep deprivation.
  5. Know that mental health issues including anxiety, depression & mood disorders are treatable & suicide is preventable.  We need to be able to identify & talk about what is happening in our lives when we are not feeling well mentally & emotionally & ensure that everyone has access to the support & treatment they need.
  6. Take action when you notice people are not themselves, behaving differently, seem sad, hopeless, depressed:
    • Ask if they are OK
    • Practice reflective listening.  Provide empathy & understanding & reflect emotion.
    • Don’t judge
    • Let them know they are not alone
    • Connect them to a counselor or mental health professional.  Mental health professionals are trained to help a person understand their feelings and can improve mental wellness and resiliency.  Psychotherapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy, can help a person with thoughts of suicide recognize unhealthy patterns of thinking and behavior, validate troubling feelings, and learn coping skills.
    • Build hope.  Breathe.  Slow things down.  Try & get through life’s challenges one minute, one hour, one day at at time…together.