Health Matters: Preventing Suicide
September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and this seemed like a good time to increase awareness about signs and symptoms of suicide, and to share information about resources that can help those suffering from severe depression.
Suicide is more common than many people realize, and it is on the rise. Between 1999-2014, the U.S. suicide rate increased by 24 percent. Suicide sends waves of sadness, guilt, disbelief, and loss through the friends, family members, coworkers, classmates, and others left behind. Although suicide occurs in people who suffer from mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, it is most common in people with severe depression—and it is twice as common in Mendocino County as it is in the state of California.
Part of why people commit suicide is because they feel hopeless and isolated. They convince themselves that the world would be better off without them or that death would be preferable to the pain they’re experiencing.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
They withdraw from the life they once had, pulling away from those they love and stopping activities they once enjoyed. They sometimes engage in risky behaviors with drugs and alcohol or get into self-destructive habits. They may stop making plans for the future, and sometimes go as far as getting their affairs in order—giving away prized possessions and finding ways to say goodbye.
As you can imagine, it takes time for people to go from mild depression to suicidal thoughts, but without intervention, it happens all too often.
OVERCOMING SOCIAL STIGMAS
In our society, the ongoing stigma around mental illness makes it hard for people to receive the help they need. Those who suffer from depression are often secretive about their struggle because they’re ashamed. They worry others will judge them, or they judge themselves. People may believe that if they had more will power and a positive attitude, they’d be fine.
When people receive a cancer diagnosis, it’s perfectly acceptable to talk about their battle with cancer. When someone attempts suicide, people often speak in hushed tones about what happened. We need to bring mental illness into the light and share the treatment options like we do with so many other diseases. Can you imagine telling someone with diabetes or heart disease to use their will power to heal themselves? Neither can I. In reality, asking for help is a sign of great strength. It shows a willingness to risk rejection for the chance to heal.
HOW TO HELP
If someone you care about stops accepting your invitations to go out, seems sad more often than not, complains they can’t sleep, is tired all the time, has major appetite changes, has trouble focusing, or just seems like they’re not themselves, trust your instincts that something is wrong.
The worst thing you can do for that person is to disengage, which can be challenging when they seem negative or avoid your company. It’s far more helpful to ask questions to show you care, and to encourage your friend to seek help. Consider offering to schedule an appointment with a doctor or therapist on your friend’s behalf, and promise to drive them to their appointment. Sometimes these small acts of kindness can make all the difference.
Depression is a disorder that, once it reaches a certain point, requires treatment to overcome. It gains momentum and may become harder for an individual to manage on their own as time goes on. This is when behavioral health services can help reduce depressive symptoms and increase a sense of hope.
If you’d like more information about depression or other mental illnesses, a great online resource is www.helpguide.org. If you or someone you love is in crisis, the local 24-hour suicide hotline number is 1-855-838-0404.
In inland Mendocino County, we have several resources to help people suffering from depression. Visit www.namimendocino.org to learn more. At MCHC Health Centers, we provide behavioral health care for children and adults affected by depression. We integrate medical and behavioral healthcare because we understand that physical and emotional health are inextricably linked.
Grace Ivey is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker at MCHC Health Centers, a local, non-profit, federally qualified health center offering medical, dental and behavioral health care to people of all ages in Lake and Mendocino Counties.