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Mental health care and suicide prevention

-by Dr. DeeJay Donlin, Behavioral Health Clinic at Orange City Area Health System

It would be difficult to find anyone these days who would not say that the past year has been a time of increased stress from multiple arenas (health, social, political, etc.).  Although we don’t have enough data to directly connect these recent stressors to an increase in suicidality, we can say that since 1999 suicide rates have risen in nearly every state and have climbed more than 30% nationwide (CDC).  With this in mind, it only makes sense to be aware of potential signs and indicators as we care for others.  Unfortunately, accurately predicting suicide attempts is very complex and typically connected to many factors including, but not limited to:  mental illness, substance abuse, traumatic loss, social isolation, exposure to violence and prior suicide attempts.  There are many excellent resources that provide suicide awareness and prevention tips such as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA), National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and National Alliance on Mental Illness ( NAMI).     

Below are a few “warning signs” or possible indicators that someone is at risk:

  • Talking about or researching ways to die or to kill oneself
  • Describing a sense of being hopeless, trapped, a burden to others or no reason to live
  • Increase use of alcohol or drugs
  • Becoming more extreme as compared to baseline behavior–more rageful or agitated as well as more withdrawn or isolated
  • Being unable to sleep or sleeping excessively

If you believe someone may be thinking of harming themselves, consider a number of different actions:

  • If there is concern regarding safety or immediate harm, call 911 and allow trained personnel to evaluate and treat
  • Talk to the person and ask if they are thinking about harming themselves–listen without judging and show that you care–sometimes just being there is as important as what you say
  • Keep them safe by identifying and removing any potential methods of self-harm
  • Help the person identify potential supports in their lives and develop a specific plan to connect to those supports
  • Involve others, including professional services–don’t allow the burden of care/responsibility to be only yourself

If you need help for yourself or someone else, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) or chat online at www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org