As we enter October it is hard to believe how much has happened in our world over the last 7 months. These massive shifts happening both locally and globally, have shaken the foundation for many when it comes to our health, overall well being, and even survival for some.
There are fears around whether we or our loved ones will get sick or losing jobs and/ or homes. Very real fears in a time of uncertainty. Many have been inspired to reconnect with their sense of purpose, family, and loved ones. For others, it has been a time of heightened fear, anxiety, and isolation. As we head into the darker days of fall, it seems a very appropriate month to shed light on some of these tough issues and more importantly how we as individuals and communities can find ways to help those who are struggling.
October is Emotional Wellness Month, October 4-10 is Mental Illness Awareness Week, and Oct 10 World Mental Health Day. In honor of this, it’s important to discuss one of the least talked about, but more pervasive than ever issues in mental health, which is Suicide. No one wants to talk about it, but as health care practitioners we cannot stay silent. More than ever we need to talk about Suicide prevention.
The numbers before 2020 of death by Suicide were rising every year but this year has shown an unacceptable and dramatic surge. By the end of July, we had already surpassed the total for all of 2019- nationwide. In Washington state alone the number as of August 1st was tallied at 1300 reported deaths.
More than for all of last year.
Even more tragically, teens and young people top the list. It is the second leading cause of death for ages 16-34 in America. However, it afflicts those of every age, as the numbers are climbing in children as young as nine and many elderly. We can do something about this though. It turns out that 80% of people who attempt or succeed in suicide, actually told at least one person what they were planning. Anyone of this could be that person and it is important we know how to respond.
First it is important to be aware of signs in those we know or care for.
Warning signs may not just show up in people who appear clinically depressed. Often people may put on an “I’m fine” face to the world while they suffer on the inside. One suicide attempt survivor, who appeared to have it all together states that “ Perfection almost killed her.”
In addition to the classic signs of depression such as changes in sleep or eating patterns, school or workplace performance (with things so different now it can be hard to monitor these changes), and withdrawn behavior. Also tune in more closely to those you know who have had major changes in their life recently such as increased financial struggles, loss of job or connection to school and social events, or those who have had many added responsibilities piled on their plate. Increased anxiety or the use of substances are also risk factors. A state of overwhelm and exhaustion can also trigger suicidal ideation in those who do not present as depressed on the outside.
What small actions can we take?
1) Talk about it. Get real and don’t be afraid to ask people how they are doing? Really doing. We are programmed to say “fine” because there is a lot of shame in not being “fine” or because we don’t want to burden other people. We don’t have to be a trained mental health professional to ask questions and offer a compassionate ear. There are a lot of myths out there. Let’s separate truth from myth. The links below can help us do that.
2) Arm yourself with resources to share. There are numerous resources that can both educate and offer practical support to people who are overwhelmed, depressed, suicidal, and those of us who want to support them. Many are listed at the end of this blog.
3) Reach out. Recently I have made a practice of going through my mental Rolodex of friends and acquaintances whom I haven’t connected with in a while or that person who keeps popping into my mind. I then commit to calling that person sometime in the next few days just to check in and say hello. Especially those I know who tend to get overwhelmed or isolated, work too hard, or carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. We are all busy but it is surprisingly easy to find a few minutes to pick up the phone ( get out of the texting or social media loop) – call and say “ I am just thinking about you and want to let you know I care”.
4) If someone tells you they are having a hard time or even if they don’t say it outright-just listen. So often we want to just make people feel better by saying you will be fine, this will pass, etc. Really the most helpful thing we can do is listen, perhaps say ‘tell me more”, how can I help, where does it hurt? If someone acknowledges they are struggling or feeling like they can’t take this anymore ask them what they mean by that? Encourage them to reach out for more support, that they don’t have to do it alone, and share resources, help them make a plan, and check back with them sooner than later.
For some reason asking for help is one of the hardest things humans can do. Together we can make it easier. Take a moment and reach out to someone you think may need you. If you are feeling overwhelmed, depressed, or suicidal know that you are not alone and try to gather the strength or courage to pick up the phone and let someone know you need help.
Dr. Anastasia Jones
Suicide prevention and Mental Health Resources:
Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 (talk)
Crisis text line: Text Help to 741741
Teenlink.org or 1-866-teenlink
King County Crisis line: 206-296-0582- connect to crisis counselors
Neveralone.love – a project of the Chopra foundation – a multimodal alliance with mental health resources and tools with community based practice.
#howareyoureally? A twitter platform for real open dialogue
Real educational videos:
Suicide Attempt Survivors Bust Myths About Suicide/ Truth or Myth
The NAN project: 11 myths and truths about suicide
Film: I am Never Alone by Michael Pascal. Based on real peoples experience with sucicide to foster understanding and eradicate stigma