There has been a lot of talk about suicide lately given the recent, tragic death of actor and comedian Robin Williams. However, did you know that every year over 800,000 people die by suicide around the world? That’s one death every 40 seconds. World Suicide Prevention Day is a collaboration between the International Association of Suicide Prevention and the World Health Organization, and has been raising awareness and celebrating global efforts to prevent suicide since 2003. This year’s theme focuses on connection: The connection between governments and organizations around the globe, but also the personal connections that are so vital to individuals at risk of suicide.
It’s important to keep in mind that suicide is simply a symptom. The real issue is mental illness. According to MentalHealth.gov one in 20 Americans suffers from a major mental health disorder such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or major depression. One in 5 American adults will experience a mental health issue at some point in their life.
Unfortunately, there is still a significant amount of stigma surrounding mental illness. The belief that folks with depression just need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and “get on” with life is prevalent. Maybe it’s because there is no blood test or any visible signs of trauma like a broken arm, but the affects are just as debilitating as any other chronic illness. Because of this stigma, people have a tendency not to talk about their struggles, which perpetuates the problem. This silence makes those who are struggling feel alone in their journey and their friends and family don’t know how to help them.
That’s why connections are so crucial. According to the official World Suicide Prevention Day website, “Studies have shown that social isolation can increase the risk of suicide and, conversely, that having strong human bonds can be protective against it.” In addition to friends and family, healthcare workers can play an important role in creating and cultivating connections for a patient. Life in scrubs is hectic and sometimes it can be easy to forget that simply connecting with a patient on a human level can be the greatest gift. So what signs should you be watching for in your patients, as well as your friends and family?
According to the National Council for Suicide Prevention, these are some of the common signs that a person may be dealing with a mental issue:
- Depression or apathy that interferes with obligations or participating in social activities
- Lack of coping skills around day-to-day problems or extreme reactions to certain situations
- Extreme highs, referred to as mania, that may include rushed thoughts, bursts of energy, sleeplessness and compulsive behavior (like excessive spending or promiscuous sexual behavior)
- Severe anxiety or stress
- Constant feelings of sadness or hopelessness
- Increased use of alcohol or drugs
It’s hard to know what to say to someone who is experiencing mental issues. Keep in mind that there is no magic response, nothing that you can say that will take away their pain or trauma. And it is not your responsibility to cure them. What you can do, though, is listen without judgment. Encourage them to seek professional help and reassure them that the situation, although difficult and overwhelming, is not hopeless and that you and many others are there for them.
World Suicide Prevention Day is a great time to research the resources that are available to you and your patients. That way you will know what tools you have to work with before a crisis arises. You can always call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) any time day or night!
For more resources and information, see the following links.
- Official World Suicide Prevention Day Website
- Take 5 to Save Lives
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
No matter what you are going through, reach out for help! There is always hope!