September Marks Suicide Prevention Awareness Month
By Wendy Bailey
Mississippi Department of Mental Health Executive Director
(Jackson, Mississippi) – Now more than ever, it is important that Mississippians be there for one another. Having thoughts of suicide is a secret no one should keep, but you can’t always tell what someone is thinking just by looking at them. That’s why it is vital to break down barriers and have open, honest and serious conversations about suicide. This month, Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, provides us the perfect opportunity to do just that.
Today, we are seeing more Mississippians calling to simply talk to someone or seek help and resources: the Mississippi Call Center for National Suicide Prevention Lifeline experienced a 33 percent increase in calls from last year, and the Department of Mental Health Helpline experienced a 30 percent increase in calls. In Mississippi, the latest figures from the Mississippi State Department of Health show an increase in the number of deaths by suicide from 422 in 2018 to 436 to 2019.
Each death by suicide is one too many. These numbers send a very strong message, and one we cannot afford to ignore: people want and need to talk to someone who can offer them hope and help. Hope is a powerful thing. It is a strength and a protective factor we all need. As a famous philosopher once said, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all the darkness.”
What if someone close to you is thinking about suicide? Something as simple as a conversation to encourage them to get help could be the very reason they chose to live. I encourage all Mississippians to check in on your loved ones and have that conversation. You just may save a life.
When speaking with someone who is having thoughts of suicide, it is easy to jump to immediately wanting to protect the person, but by failing to understand the why, we have only temporarily prevented a suicide attempt.
If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, don’t take it lightly or dismiss it. Thinking it will go away, keeping it a secret, thinking nothing can be done, or thinking you can fix it all by yourself – these are the things that should be avoided at all costs. Instead, be honest and express your concern, listen and offer support, take your loved one seriously, or offer to accompany them to seek help. By being a friend who is understanding, accepting and compassionate, you can make a difference.
We can only effectively intervene when we truly understand a person’s reasons for wanting to end their life. That is how we can get them the necessary help, and to prevent death by suicide in the long term. We must not only hear someone’s story, but deeply understand what they are trying to say. Asking someone if they need help, and truly listening to them and their story can provide hope. It can move them from focusing on the past to engaging in the present moment.
Some warning signs to look for include: talking about feeling worthless or hopeless, losing interest in activities, using or increasing use of drugs or alcohol, changes in eating and sleeping habits, and changes from typical behavior.
Everyone can play a role in suicide prevention, not just mental health professionals or organizations. The Mississippi Department of Mental Health raises awareness of suicide prevention through our Shatter the Silence campaign to remember those affected by suicide, educate about warning signs and symptoms, and focus on efforts that direct treatment to those who need it most. Contact us today for more information and remember we should talk about this topic throughout the year, not just Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.
If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, there is help available 24 hours, seven days a week. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK), text “HOME” to the Crisis Text Line at 741741, or download the Shatter the Silence app on Google Play or Apple iTunes store. As always, you can also visit www.mentalhealthms.com to find resources close to you.