Talking about suicide in the right way is no longer just important — it is critical.
September is Suicide Prevention Month. For many, the entire year has been an immersive lesson in understanding mental health. News cycles revolve around loss, tragedy and the fear of the unknown looms large. Combined with mandatory time alone, feelings of loneliness and anxiety are ubiquitous.
As early as April, mental health experts and professionals expressed concern over a potential mental health pandemic as an aftermath of the spread of COVID-19. Months later, those worries have started to manifest.
Britain has reported a significant increase in the number of people seeking mental health services. Even with a drop in reported cases during the height of shutdowns, the demand now exceeds pre-pandemic levels.
According to the CDC, U.S. adults also reported elevated levels of adverse mental health conditions in the past few weeks. The increase was more significant among young adults, essential workers and minorities.
Reported opioid overdoses and other issues involving substance abuse have also risen.
Experts now express concern over a potential increase in teen and young adult suicides, with that age group reporting the sharpest increases in suicide ideation. For those between 18-24, 1 in 4 said they had “seriously considered” suicide in the last 30 days.
Enforced physical distancing and stay-at-home orders have taken a toll on everyone and shown that nobody is too young to be affected. Children as young as 6 and 7 have expressed suicidal ideation and thoughts.
If a family has not yet had a serious conversation about suicide and mental health, let this month of awareness be a signal to approach the topic.
Just as with any other health crisis, everyone plays a role in suicide prevention. The burden does not lay on the shoulders of only health care providers and mental health workers.
Studies show that simply talking to another individual and feeling understood can actually reduce the likelihood of the individual acting on those feelings. Fear shouldn’t hinder direct conversations and questions.
In July we emphasized the importance of using correct terminology and language surrounding mental health and suicide. Suicide is not a term to be taken lightly, but neither is not a word to be afraid of.
Life comes with difficult challenges. At some point, everyone will experience depressive episodes or even wonder if the world would be better off without them. These are not thoughts to be ashamed of, and they do not have to last forever. Like feelings of hunger, they are merely signals that something needs to be addressed.
Conversations discussing life, death and mental health can empower others and ourselves to face these scary, lonely moments with courage and optimism. Hearing the stories of others coming out the other side stronger gives hope and takes away feelings of shame.
It’s been a tumultuous year. Earthquakes, hurricane-force winds, wildfires and a novel virus have all contributed to feelings of worry and uncertainty. But those feelings are normal, perhaps even expected.
Conversations about how to cope with those feelings should be, too.
Alarming suicide rates among teens in Utah has resulted in campaigns to bring awareness to the issue. We hope many have already heeded those calls, and reiterate the importance of continued, caring conversations about the topic.
This Suicide Prevention Month, find someone to talk to. There may never be a “good” time to broach the subject, but it is a crucial time. Everyone plays a part in saving lives.