Closing Out Suicide Prevention Month 2019

As we reached the end of Suicide Prevention Month, I thought long and hard about what I could write here, and to be honest I was coming up empty. You’ve seen the statistics – we know this is a major issue not only in our country but around the world. We know there are so many different resources we can turn to for help not only when we’re in a crisis, but just when we are struggling and need some help. Because even though you or I might not be experts on suicide prevention, we know where those experts are and how we can connect with them.

I guess the only real thought I had, that I thought was worth sharing here, is that even though the month is over the fight will go on. People and organizations around the world will continue to work to fight against suicide, and we should everything we can to help.

Two years ago I discovered Out of the Darkness Community Walks, which are events hosted by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Each fall, hundreds of these walks are held in towns and cities all around the country with the intention to raise awareness and funds to the cause of suicide and suicide prevention.

When I went to my first walk two years ago, I didn’t know what to expect. And I was blown away. Now it’s an event close to my heart, and I walk in the D.C. walk every year (this year’s walk will be held on November 2nd – see my fundraising page for more information!). But there are so many organizations out there fighting suicide, not just the AFSP, and I’d encourage you to look and see where you could provide an impact.

I hope you can find your own way to help, whether it’s by volunteering time or money to an organization, or just taking a minute to check in with someone in your life. Because even the smallest outreach can have the largest impact, and you never know how you can help someone. This is a complicated issue, but an issue worth facing. Because the fight against suicide will continue, and we can’t give up now.

If you want to learn more about the work AFSP does or the Out of the Darkness Walks in general, their website has a ton of information that is extremely helpful on the subject.

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How to Fight the Mental Health Stigma

I have battled mental health issues for more than six years and, for just as long, I have been battling the stigma of mental health. There are plenty of reasons as to why the stigma surrounding mental health continues to exist, but its results are usually the same. People are given an inaccurate picture of what mental illness looks like and, based on this depiction, they treat people with mental illness a certain way. This leads potentially making people feel ashamed of their struggles, and not seeking help for those struggles.

While progress has been made, the stigma surrounding mental health persists in our world today (which I wrote about on the blog last week). But there are several things you can do to lessen the stigma surrounding mental health. While not all of them are easy, any action taken toward shrinking the stigma goes a long way not only for that person but for any of us who are struggling with our mental health. Here are some things to try to lessen the mental health stigma:

Be Open and Honest

When someone asks you how you’re doing, it’s natural to say that we’re ‘fine.’ But if you’re with someone that knows you well and you feel comfortable around, it might not hurt to tell them how you’re really doing. People are afraid of the unknown, but when you thrust mental health into everyday conversation, it becomes easier for people to accept in time.

Word Choice is Important

Labels – and knowing the right labels – are important when it comes to mental health. Your friend being sad for a few hours doesn’t mean they have depression. I’ve heard people get called bipolar all the time if they act even remotely out of the ordinary. And of course, there’s the constant labeling of the mentally ill as ‘crazy’ – a misspoken phrase that unfortunately is quite common. Once you pay attention to the words you use, you can begin to recognize when people around you use language that’s hurtful to the mentally ill.

Mental Health is Equal to Physical Health

This is something that I personally try to encourage as much as possible – that mental health is just as important as physical health. Mental illness is a disease just like all the other physical diseases out there, it’s just harder to see. Once people around me understood that I live with a disease, it was easier for them to accept why I sometimes couldn’t come to parties or hang out with them.

It’s All Relative

Mental health is not a one-size-fits-all type of thing. People are all on different journeys and in different places with their mental health, and what works for one person may not work for another. Recognizing that we’re all individuals with our own stories might seem like common sense, but mental health is something that’s often put into a box because of the lack of awareness or education. Don’t be afraid to tell your story and let people know that it’s just that – your story.

These are just a few of the many ways we can work to shrink the stigma. It’s hard to know what will work best in a given situation but one thing is certain – that stigma won’t go away if we don’t try to get rid of it!

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Is Mental Health Still Stigmatized?

I have a short answer and a long answer to the question above. The short answer? Yes, it is. The long answer? Give me a second.

When I ask questions in my posts, I often turn to Google to gauge how legitimate my question is. This time, though, I looked for something more specific – the dates of the results on the search page. I knew there would be articles, posts and web pages asking my same question, but I wanted to know if they were old or new. And what I found was that there was a mix of both. I’d see a study from 2012 next to a blog post from 2015 all jammed between two articles from May 2019. What did that show me? That this question is an ongoing discussion about how we deal with mental health in the United States.

The long answer to this question: while it is still stigmatized, it seems like that stigma isn’t as strong as it once was. That’s what I feel comfortable saying.

That answer doesn’t sound long, does it? Look at what I wrote though. The stigma isn’t as strong as it once was. What I’m saying is that I believe it’s not as bad as things used to be. Usually, that would imply that things are good in the present. But the argument that things are better than before is a dangerous argument to make (see: most of History). Will taking that approach with mental health help in the long run?

I’m encouraged at the number of celebrities who are being more open about their mental health. I feel proud when I see a professional athlete say they’ve gone through tough periods of depression or anxiety because I was an athlete growing up; I understand how brave you have to be to do that. I know these stories help other people who struggle with their own mental health and that’s wonderful (I can’t emphasize that enough. It’s truly wonderful). But we also have to acknowledge that if there wasn’t such a strong stigma, a famous person talking about mental health wouldn’t be so groundbreaking in a country where 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness every year. And yet, it is.

Has the stigma surrounding mental health decreased? Sure, you could say that. But if you do, look at where it used to be. That might reframe how you answer the question. And honestly, there’s plenty of ways to discuss/debate this topic. Is the stigma decreasing? Are people being more open about mental health? How can we reduce the stigma, or just overcome it?

All are valid questions, but there’s a reason I asked the question the way I did – I wanted you to react. When you read that question, you had an instant reaction. It might have been yes, no or somewhere in between, but you thought something. A key way to break down a stigma – any stigma – is to talk openly about it. So we need people to think about it and talk about it. Whether they think they’re right or wrong, opinionated or not. Because as long as mental health is stigmatized, there’s still work to do.

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Suicide Prevention Resources

People have been writing about the stigma surrounding suicide for a very long time. Has the stigma lessened? Are people more comfortable discussing their struggles? It’s hard to quantify that on a larger scale so I don’t really want to get into all that, but it’s safe to say that this stigma still exists in some way, shape or form. This means that some people might not be getting the care and attention they need as they face suicidal thoughts, ideation or something more extreme, and that is where today’s post comes in.

Part of the reason why this is such a nuanced topic is because when someone is struggling with suicidal feelings, ‘reaching out’ isn’t as easy as it seems. Does that person have anyone to reach out to? Even if they do, do they feel comfortable enough to do so? And if that person does feel comfortable, is the person they’re reaching out to willing/able to help? So many questions…and that’s just one of the many possible scenarios.

But regardless of any of this, everyone should be aware of the suicide prevention resources that are available – whether you’re the one struggling or the one providing help. Below are some links and descriptions to some of the more well-known suicide prevention resources, websites and phone numbers. If you have any questions about anything I’ve listed, let me know and we can talk about it!

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

First off, know the number (1-800-273-8255) and know that anyone can call 24/7 for FREE. But this suicide prevention center offers many other resources other than just the hotline – there’s an online chat if you can’t talk on the phone as well as specific resources for Veterans, LGBTQ+, Attempt Survivors and other groups of people who could be at risk.

Crisis Text Line

Talking on the phone isn’t always the best option, and that’s where the Crisis Text Line can help. By texting ‘TALK’ to 741741, you can have a confidential text conversation with someone. The first priority for the Crisis Text line ‘is helping people move from a hot moment to a cool calm, guiding you to create a plan to stay safe and healthy.’ In fact, this line is used for all types of crises, and more than 100 million text messages have been since in the six years since its inception.

Suicide Prevention Resource Center

The SPRC is the only federally supported resource center specifically about suicide prevention and as such, offers a ton of information on the best techniques and approaches for suicide prevention. This site is especially helpful in some of the training they offer including online courses and webinars.

The Trevor Project

Founded specifically to focus on suicide prevention for young people in the LGBTQ community, the Trevor Project offers several free resources to immediately help those in need including the Trevor Lifeline, Trevor Chat, Trevor Text and Trevor Space (you can reach all of these through their ‘Get Help Now’ page).

Veterans Crisis Line

Like many of the resources offered here, the Veterans Crisis Line offers a confidential hotline, online chat and text support but another important resource this crisis line provides is that after a call or chat, you can be referred to a Suicide Prevention Coordinator at that person’s local VA medical center.

SAMHSA’s National Helpline

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) national helpline can provide more helpful support not only to people struggling with their mental health but also substance abuse (or both). The helpline makes it a point to note that they take calls in both English and Spanish.

*One more resource I’d like to mention is a ‘Resources’ page I found on the website of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Not only are there tons of numbers to crisis lines on this page, but also additional resources based on different mental health conditions. This page might provide way more help than I possibly could so that’s why I included it!

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I Might Feel Worthless, But My Experience is Not

One of the most common symptoms of clinical depression and other depressive disorders is feeling worthless. I’d delve more into why this happens and how this affects people, but that’s not my main point today (though I have written before about recognizing the signs of depression).

The symptoms might be similar, but each person’s experience with depression is unique because of their personality and life experiences. You and I might both be feeling worthless right now, but the way it manifests itself in our daily lives could look extremely different. However, there’s one important aspect of this struggle that is overlooked, underrated and 100% true: your experience – whatever it is – is worth something.

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A Global Issue – World Suicide Prevention Day 2019

TW: This post discusses suicide

Typically when I post about suicide/suicide prevention, I focus on the issue in America. That’s mostly because when awareness weeks/months happen, it’s mostly about the topic of suicide as it pertains to America. So when I decided to write about World Suicide Day this year (which I’ve never done before), it was one of the first times that I looked at suicide as a global issue. And yes, it is a global issue. Just see what the World Health Organization has to say about it.

The reason that reading about suicide statistics in the United States was troubling for me in the first place was that it had me thinking that the situation was worse in the United States than it was elsewhere. But as I looked up statistics, facts, and figures from other countries, I learned this is just as big of a problem all around the world. And while strategies for suicide prevention have improved in a big way, suicide rates have not decreased in recent years. In fact, it’s estimated that around the world there is a death by suicide every 40 seconds. Every. 40. Seconds.

Just as it was last year, this year’s theme is ‘Working Together to Prevent Suicide’ and I truly believe this theme says a lot about how we need to approach the issue – everyone, anyone can be involved in suicide prevention. Whether it’s checking in on a co-worker or giving a friend a call when you think they might be struggling, we all have a role to play in lifting up those around us and making sure they’re doing okay. But make no mistake, it is not up to just one person – we all have a role to play, and it can come down to three key actions to take:

  1. Knowing and recognizing signs of someone at risk
  2. Reaching out to someone in need
  3. Finding out what resources are available depending on the situation

There are plenty of resources that can provide the best information with specifics on this, but those are the three key takeaways that I wanted to mention because a ton can flow from those three main points. It looks easy on paper, and it some ways it is. But the topic of suicide is so nuanced and complex that the actual discussions can be anything but easy.

It starts with educating yourself, and that’s why days of awareness like today exist. I included so many links today because even though I’m not an expert myself, I know where to turn for information now, and it’s been extremely helpful.

One more thing I think you should do today. If you’re on Twitter, go check out the #WorldSuicidePreventionDay hashtag and give it a read. It might be hard, it might be upsetting, but it will also make it clear how big of an issue this is.

This is real. This is happening. And we have to fight it.

 

Suicide Prevention Awareness Month 2019

TW: This post discusses suicide. 

Every year that I’ve done this blog, I’ve written about Suicide Prevention Month. Personally, it’s never easy to write, but the information is so necessary that I feel I’d be misleading you by not writing about it. Because it’s not enough to be aware that suicide is widespread in this country – we have to do more than that. But how?

If you think this issue is going away, I’m here to tell you that it’s not. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, suicide the tenth-leading cause of death in the United States. It is the second-leading cause of death among individuals in the 10-14, 15-24, and 25-34 age groups. It is the fourth-leading cause of death among individuals in the 35-44 and 45-54 age groups. The AFSP reported that in 2017, there were an estimated 1.4 million suicide attempts, and 4.3% of all adults in the United States admitted to having suicidal thoughts at some point that year.

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But this month is not just about bringing awareness to the prevalence of suicide but educating people on how to prevent it. There are tons of resources available from organizations and advocacy groups that discuss how we can work to prevent suicide and while they’re available year-round, Suicide Prevention Month provides some time to specifically discuss suicide prevention and the best ways to approach it. The National Alliance on Mental Illnessthe Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and the CDC all have pages dedicated not only to suicide prevention but to this month especially. 

Next week (September 8-14) is National Suicide Prevention Week and during the week is World Suicide Prevention Day (September 10). There’s plenty more to add to the discussion that will continue as the month goes on whether you’re going to #BeThe1To or talk about #SuicidePrevention or #StigmaFree, but I do want to leave you with this. When it comes to the topic of suicide, asking for help is not easy. Neither is trying to help those who are struggling. But we have to keep fighting – and there’s plenty to fight for.

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