By Tracy Morin | Photography courtesy of American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
Suicide Prevention Month raises awareness to help those who may be suffering and to point them to the appropriate resources for professional help.
Suicide does not discriminate, affecting people from all walks of life regardless of economic status, gender, age, or race. However, despite its far-reaching effects, and though awareness and understanding are steadily growing, suicide and suicidal thoughts often remain hidden under a shroud of stigma.
Suicide Prevention Month takes place every September to help raise awareness and educate the public about the possibility of prevention. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) describes it as “a time to share resources and stories in an effort to shed light on this highly taboo and stigmatized topic.”
But how should you respond when you believe a loved one or friend needs help?
First, keep an eye out for warning signs that might indicate mental health issues. Oftentimes, those who are struggling do show clear warnings signs that can be observed by friends and family, notes Kristen Fisher, director of business development for Parkwood Behavioral Health System in Olive Branch, Miss.
“These warning signs can include isolation, loss of interest in previous hobbies or activities, giving away belongings, poor self-care, increase in drug and alcohol use, depression, and increasingly impulsive actions,” Fisher explains. “Warning signs that may indicate an immediate risk include talking or writing about suicide, hopelessness or inability to identify a reason to live, and looking for ways to kill oneself, such as searching online or gaining means to carry out a plan.”
Fisher adds that life stressors can also exacerbate symptoms of mental and emotional disorders, which may result in suicidal thoughts.
She notes that simply showing interest and compassion toward a loved one who may be struggling can be just the help that someone needs when they’re going through a difficult time. Fisher’s tips include encouraging the person to communicate by asking open-ended questions, and showing your support and listening. Also, she suggests asking direct questions, and getting comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. For example, you may ask, “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” or “Are you contemplating suicide?”
“Allow the individual to share their thoughts and feelings, and listen without showing judgment,” Fisher advises. “If the person struggling is willing to discuss what they are dealing with, asking questions on the details and allowing the person to answer can be the support someone needs to seek help.”
On the other hand, there are pitfalls to avoid when you’re concerned about a loved one. For example, don’t leave the person alone, and make sure you’re both in a safe space. Another common mistake is delaying a chance to have meaningful conversations until a later date.
“The best time to talk about it is in the moment, because you might not ever get the chance again,” Fisher emphasizes. “Talking is healing. Most suicides are preventable. Show loved ones you care through empathic conversation, and offer a safe place to discuss what they are dealing with. And you should never promise to keep someone’s suicidal feelings a secret, especially if their life is in danger.”
Luckily, today there are a variety of professional methods that can help prevent suicides. Fisher notes that those in immediate trouble can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255) or go to a local emergency room. Meanwhile, for long-term professional help, treatment options range from support groups to talk therapy, as well as more thorough treatment programs, such as intensive outpatient care or partial hospitalization.
“For those who are experiencing suicidal thoughts, short-term inpatient care may be necessary,” Fisher says. At Parkwood Behavioral Health System, clinicians are available 24 hours per day, seven days per week, to take calls for help, and the organization offers no-cost assessments to help an individual start their path to healing.
Finally, there are a variety of ways to help support the mission of Suicide Prevention Month, which helps create awareness while breaking the stigma of mental illness. For example, NAMI recommends promoting awareness throughout September by using social media hashtags such as #SuicidePrevention or #StigmaFree.
But there are also plenty of ways to get involved locally.
“There are many events that occur during the month, such as the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention walks, which are held throughout Mississippi and in the Mid-South each year,” Fisher notes. “As a proud supporter of the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, Parkwood Behavioral Health System also provides resources to the communities we serve by educating and empowering others.”