Here in the U.S., National Suicide Prevention Week (September 10-16, 2017) just ended.
Did you know that?
And, according to most mental health organizations in the U.S., September is National Suicide Prevention Month.
I bet you didn’t know that.
World Suicide Prevention Day was last Sunday, the tenth.
I bet you didn’t know that, either.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255 [1-800-273-TALK]) has designated the Twitter hashtag “#BeThe1To” as its message for suicide prevention. If you’re on the Twitter, please help bring attention to the fact that it’s okay to ask a friend or loved one if they’re depressed or thinking of dying by suicide (and use the hashtag).
It’s also okay to talk about mental health in general. We’ve got to get rid of the stigma! Use #BeThe1To to spread the news, and visit their website (http://www.bethe1to.com/) for resources. If you scroll down to the bottom of the page, you will see the logos of all their partners. Each one is clickable and will take you to their (mental health-related) websites.
Bonus Quick FYI: October 1-7 is National Mental Illness Awareness Week. It’s coming right up! Go to https://www.nami.org/Get-Involved/Awareness-Events/Mental-Illness-Awareness-Week for more information. And October 5th is National Depression Screening Day. You can take the screening at http://helpyourselfhelpothers.org/ at any time.
In a world where it’s easy, quick, and fun to discover such inane things as National Donut Day (June 2nd this year; June 1st in 2018) or International Talk Like A Pirate Day (coming up this Tuesday, Sept. 19th!), serious issues still often suffer from little to no publicity. Thus, the #BeThe1To hashtag (and others).
Hell, Talk Like a Pirate Day even has its own website! (http://talklikeapirate.com/wordpress/)
LET’S TALK ABOUT SUICIDE
Unfortunately, mental health in general and suicide, specifically, are still mostly taboo subjects surrounded by myths, misinformation, and stigma. Lots and lots of stigma.
So let’s talk about it.
According to NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness) and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), 41,000 people commit suicide each year – and that’s just in the United States! In fact, the suicide rate increased a whopping 24% from 1999 to 2014.
It also appears as though women are “catching up” to men in suicide rates. Historically, more women attempt suicide, but more men are successful in their attempts because they tend to use more violent, final methods – i.e., guns v. overdosing.
The suicide rates for females during this timeframe increased by just really crazy percentages in specified age groups between 10 and 74. Yes, that’s right – both older people and little kids attempt and commit suicide, too. 🙁
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 10 to 24-year-olds, behind only accidental death (which could, really, be most anything), and is the tenth leading cause of death for all adults in the U.S.
There is way too much information out there to put in this post, but if you’d like to see more statistics, check out this page from the CDC.
OKAY, LET’S TALK ABOUT SUICIDE PREVENTION NOW
One of the most damaging myths about suicide out there (in my opinion) is this: If we don’t talk about it, it won’t happen.
This myth only does one thing – it keeps the stigma alive and flourishing.
Well, it does something else, too – it allows the suicide rates to keep increasing.
The fact is, asking someone if they’re suicidal does NOT increase the likelihood that the person will attempt suicide.
Let me say that another way. It’s okay to talk about it!
Ignoring someone’s depression, hoping it will just “go away” (which it most likely won’t, without some kind of intervention), and crossing your fingers that the person will figure things out before it gets to the point of suicidal ideation DOES NOT HELP.
In fact, as someone who has felt suicidal many times, and I mean legitimately afraid for my safety, I can tell you that the most important thing you can do is ask. Ask me how I’m really doing. Ask me if I’m really “fine”. Ask me if I’m thinking about suicide.
Why? Because, above all else, people who are depressed and/or suicidal need your love and support. That’s what we crave the most. Comfort, caring, compassion, someone to listen, someone to point us in the right direction (like therapy) when we feel overwhelmed and don’t know what else to do.
We need someone to tell and show us they care. That the world is a better place with us in it. That there are treatments for depression that actually work. (Read my post about TMS here.)
Regardless of your intentions, if you ignore the warning signs of depression and suicide, the message being received is that you don’t care. Way deep down in our hearts, we may feel that you do indeed care, but our brains interpret it as you don’t even want to know, much less help.
It’s really hard to live with a brain that’s trying to kill you and make you think you’re worthless. Every. Day.
Remember, people with mental illnesses suffer from diseases of the brain. Depression and suicidality are not things people fake for attention. Okay, maybe once in a blue moon, somewhere in the world, somebody does. But try not to think that way. There’s nothing worse than being desperate and depressed and getting closer and closer to the point where suicide seems like the best option and having people not believe you.
If you think someone (maybe even you) has depression or is struggling, chances are you’re right.
OKAY, MISS SMARTYPANTS, WHAT CAN I DO?!
Ninety percent of people who commit suicide suffer from a mental illness (but certainly not everyone with a mental illness attempts suicide). This is important to know, because mental illnesses don’t just pop up out of nowhere and lead to a sudden suicide attempt.
The good news is that there are effective treatments for every mental illness out there.
The other good news is that, if the signs of mental illness (and remember, depression is a mental illness) are taken seriously and acted upon, it can be treated effectively, and the person can live a relatively happy, healthy, productive life.
This can totally derail the road to suicidal ideation.
The not-so-good news is that mental health is very complex (damn brains!) and it can take a while to find the treatment that clicks for each person. No one solution fixes everybody.
So how can you help? What can you do?
That’s easy, and I’ve already mentioned it: Talk about it. Ask about it. And, mostly, listen to the person.
Saving a life can be as easy as that.
And if someone in your life has depression, do the same. Talk. Listen. Encourage them to get help. If they’re already getting help but still suffering, let them know it’s okay to get a second opinion or try a different med or other treatment.
Just let them know you care, and that they matter. People who are suicidal feel like they don’t matter, that no one would care (or even notice) if they were gone. Saying “I care!” is often enough to stop the progression of negative, intrusive thoughts so that they don’t get suicidal in the first place. Temporarily, anyway. They now have time to get some help.
Wouldn’t that be nice?
Don’t run away, don’t practice intentional ignorance. Ask them if they’re okay.
“Then what, Laura??”
Well, that depends. Talking, listening, and encouragement is step number one. But the illness (or the circumstances leading up to their despair) is not going to simply disappear just because you did the right thing.
Most people with mental illness(es) require medical intervention in order to improve. Some are even able to get back to their “old selves”.
Something else you can do: Learn. Learn all you can about the person’s diagnosis (if they have one). Learn about the signs of depression and suicidal ideation (see the Resource list below).
All I can say is, keep encouraging them to get help. As you can imagine, it can get pretty ugly in the mind of someone who has a brain disease. At times, every moment of every day is overwhelming. They may not even be able to pick up the phone and call a crisis center or make an appointment with a pdoc (psychiatrist) or therapist.
I’ve been in that place too often.
I know you. I know you want to help. So, if you find yourself in this kind of situation with a friend or loved one (or an acquaintance or even a stranger), have a list of resources available. Tell the person that you’re worried about them (something we all need to hear, as it reinforces the fact that we do belong, after all) and hand them a piece of paper or send them an email with a few ideas/resources. Send them a link to this post.
Hell, if you can, offer to be with the person when they call to make that appointment. Better yet, dial the phone for them. You will feel better knowing that they’re starting the road to recovery, and they will feel better knowing that someone actually gives a shit.
Knowing that can save his or her life. Really.
SUICIDE IS PREVENTABLE
I’m not going to leave you empty-handed, don’t worry. Caring about and/or for someone who’s struggling is really hard. It can be overwhelming, frustrating, and exhausting. Especially if the one you’re trying to help doesn’t take action.
Fear not! You can rest with a clear conscience when you’ve tried to help someone, whether or not they accept it.
In fact, many people who love someone with a mental illness go to therapy themselves to help them deal. There is such a thing as short-term therapy, you know 😉
Here are a few resources to get you started on the road toward conversation and encouragement:
American Association of Suicidology – http://suicidology.org/
National Suicide Lifeline (1-800-273-9855) – scroll to the middle of the page for links to resources and information on groups of people who are more vulnerable to suicide (like veterans, LGBTQ folks, and people who have attempted before): https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/
THIS IS COOL: You can now also text the Lifeline. Text “start” to 741-741.
NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) – https://www.nami.org/
WebMD’s Depression Health Center http://www.webmd.com/depression/default.htm
DBSA (Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance) – chock-full of good information, the DBSA has actual, in-person support groups for people with Depression or Bipolar Disorder! http://www.dbsalliance.org/site/PageServer?pagename=home
United Way 211 – if you live in Minnesota, dialing 2-1-1 on your phone puts you in touch with the United Way resource line, where you have 24/7 access to someone who will connect you with health and human services organizations that can help, no matter what it is you need: https://www.211unitedway.org/ Check in your area to see if your state has a similar set-up.
Depression.org – https://www.depression.org/
Huffington Post – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/topic/national-suicide-prevention-month (most of these articles are a few years old, but they’re still relevant)
BONUS LINK: A writing contest for people who have either attempted suicide or have experienced suicidal ideation (with a large cash prize!) Deadline to enter is November 27th: http://www.suicidology.org/writing-contest
This should give you a good start. I hope one of these links is helpful. As always, feel free to leave a comment or contact me at Laura (at) DepressionWarrior (dot) com and ask me anything. Or just let me know how you’re doing.
That’s it for this post. Thanks for reading and remember to Keep it Real! 🙂