September is National Suicide Prevention Month
And I’m choosing to use this month as an opportunity to start the conversation about mental health and wellness. This year has been challenging in more ways than one. The CDC published an article in September entitled Mental Health, Substance Use, and Suicidal Ideation during the COVID-19 Pandemic. It’s worth a read if you’re interested in seeing the effects of 2020 on mental health and wellness. 2020 ushered in a global pandemic, a financial recession, and a national movement for racial reconciliation. Not to mention, our worlds got turned completely upside down and inside out. We’ve all had to reassess our priorities and be mindful of how our actions and reactions have repercussions on the world around us. We’re learning to be more mindful, to live within our means, and to take better care of our bodies, minds, and spirits. But when it comes to suicide, many people write it off as a “cry for help,” when in reality, suicide is multifactorial.
Suicide is the 10th Leading Cause of Death in the US
And the 2nd leading cause of death in people age 10-34. In 2018 alone, there were 1.4 million suicide attempts with 48,344 Americans that died by suicide. Understanding that suicide is a multi-factorial issue is the first step in understanding this complicated act. People who commit suicide are often dealing with a tremendous amount of pressure at work or in their home. They may feel isolated from their friends and family and not know who to turn to. They may feel like a burden if they express their feelings. They may be fearful of ending up in a mental health facility because of the thoughts and feelings they experience. They may sense a lack of support within their immediate community. They also may be suffering from anxiety and depression, and in many cases are not being properly treated for those psychiatric disorders.
But to say that every person who commits suicide has bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or a personality disorder is a misunderstanding of suicide. There are many unsuspecting people who commit suicide. Because of that, we need to be aware of the warning signs of suicidal contemplation and know when to intervene on behalf of a friend or family member. There is definitely a stigma surrounding mental health, and it’s time we slay the stigma once a for all.
I recently read Jennie Allen’s book, Get Out of Your Head, which for anyone who hasn’t read it, I can’t recommend it enough. She talks about the mind as a battlefield. Every day we go to combat with lies that we’ve allowed ourself to believe about ourselves and about our God. But the three basic lies that we believe as truth are (1) I’m helpless (2) I’m worthless and (3) I’m unlovable. Every lie revolves around those three mistruths. And oftentimes, for those struggling with anxiety or depression, these lies are deeply rooted in ones understanding of themself. They don’t wanna be a “burden,” so they choose not to share their struggles. They don’t want to appear weak, so they hide their suicidal contemplations. But stuffing your feelings never leads to freedom or peace. We have to learn how to be more open and vulnerable. We have to learn to be more available to the people around us.
Slay the Stigma Surrounding Mental Health
It shouldn’t be shameful to take an antidepressant. You shouldn’t have to hide the fact that you go to therapy. Americans are so fearful of showing their weaknesses, but taking care of your mental health is an important form of self-care and self-love. In 2018, the New York Times revealed that almost 25 million adults in the US have taken antidepressants for at least 2 years and 15.5 million adults have taken antidepressants for at least 5 years. Basically, 1 in 10 adult Americans has taken an antidepressant for at least 2 years. I’m sure that’s more than you expected, but honestly it doesn’t surprise me. I work as a Physician Assistant in the Emergency Department and you wouldn’t believe how many people forget to mention that they are on an antidepressant or that they struggle with anxiety/depression. People are afraid to show their fallibility, but our weaknesses make us human. Why can’t we learn to be more transparent about them?
If you didn’t already know, I’m a Christian. I strongly believe my faith and relationship with God have played a major role in my own ability to overcome obstacles of depression and anxiety. If you don’t share my faith, you can move on to the next section. But I felt like I needed to share this pivotal part of my personal story, in the event that it actually encourages you in your mental health walk. Yes, therapy is extremely beneficial and yes, sometimes pharmaceutical treatment is necessary. But I know from personal experience, that my faith has kept me grounded. When I start to spiral and believe the lies that I’m helpless, worthless, or unloveable, I have to pause and remember that (1) I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13), (2) I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14), and (3) Christ loves me so much so that he died for me (Romans 5:8).
Our world is ridden with hopelessness and tragedy, but because of my faith, I don’t have to cling to the things of this world. I can live in the hope of the future, a future spent with my creator. I know that this world is not my forever home and AMEN for that. So if you ever want to talk about faith with me, feel free to reach out to me anytime. I’m an open book! But know that I am not saying faith is a replacement for counseling or medical treatment of a diagnosable disorder. Sometimes we need medical management and clinical counseling to help us get through a season, and there is never any shame in seeking treatment.
Let’s Define Some Key Terms:
Anxiety: persistent worry or fear with symptoms that interfere with daily activities such as job performance, school work, and relationships. There are different types of diagnosable anxiety disorders, including generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and various phobia-related disorders.
Depression: a common but serious mood disorder that causes severe symptoms that affect how you feel, think, and handle daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or working. To be diagnosed with depression, symptoms must be present for at least two weeks. There are different types of diagnosable depressive disorders, including major depression, postpartum depression, bipolar depression, persistent depressive disorder, psychotic depression, and seasonal affective disorder.
Mental Health: our emotional, psychological, and social well-being affecting how we think, feel, and act. Many factors contribute including biological factors (genes or brain chemistry), life experiences (trauma or abuse), and family history of mental health problems.
Mental Illness: refers to a wide range of mental health conditions — disorders that affect mood, thinking and behavior. Examples of mental illness include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders and addictive behaviors.
What are some of the outward warning signs of suicidal contemplation?
- talking about feeling hopeless, trapped, or alone
- saying they have no reason to go on living
- making a will or giving away personal possessions
- searching for a means of doing personal harm, such as buying a gun
- sleeping too much or too little
- eating too little or eating too much, resulting in significant weight gain or loss
- engaging in reckless behaviors, including excessive alcohol or drug consumption
- avoiding social interactions
- expressing rage or intentions to seek revenge
- showing signs of extreme anxiousness or agitation
- having dramatic mood swings
- talking about suicide as a way out
Risk Factors for Suicide
- Prior suicide attempt
- Depression and other mental health disorders
- Substance abuse disorder
- Family history of a mental health or substance abuse disorder
- Family history of suicide
- Family violence, including physical or sexual abuse
- Having guns or other firearms in the home
- Being in prison or jail
- Being exposed to others’ suicidal behavior, such as a family member, peer, or media figure
- Medical illness
- Being between the ages of 15 and 24 years or over age 60
How to Be an Advocate in Preventing Suicide
Know the warning signs! Be aware of the resources available in your area so you can easily refer a friend or family member. There are plenty of outpatient resources available to be had. But many people are ashamed or afraid to ask for help. By normalizing the idea of mental health treatment, we have the opportunity to provide more people with the necessary help. If you hear other people talking about mental health or mental illness inappropriately, call them out and call them in to a deeper understanding of it. Change starts with you.
The National Suicide Prevention Hotline
great resource with trained counselors available to talk 24-7
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Treatment Referral Helpline
call to locate treatment services in your area