digital art by Julia Poppa
The author Christine Mason Miller once wrote, “You have the power to say, ‘This is not how my story will end.’” It’s a vitally important sentiment, especially this month.
The month of September is very busy for families with school-age children. Students are returning to school, and parents are back at work. Stress can build up quickly, but for those who struggle with depression, the return to school and work can be overwhelming. Adding unhealthy weight to the already heavy recurring thoughts inside their minds, this time of year can be dangerously stressful.
September is National Suicide Prevention Month. Every 40 seconds, someone in the world takes their own life, which in total amounts to approximately 800,000 deaths by suicide each year. The 10th leading cause of death in the United States, suicide is regarded as a growing public health problem by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Suicidal ideations can infiltrate the mind of anyone, regardless of age, gender, race, or any other discriminating factors. A variety of which can increase or trigger suicidal thoughts and actions in an individual. Such factors can include a family history of mental health issues, alcohol or drug abuse, mental illnesses, and even the stress of daily life. Perhaps most alarming, studies have shown that teens and young adults between the ages of 15 and 24 are at the highest risk.
This year in particular seems especially at risk, with the spread of COVID-19 and significant alterations to everyday socialization. Experts believe that the stress and struggles the pandemic brought on worldwide can increase the chances of individuals developing suicidal thoughts. During the pandemic, alcohol and drug misuse has been projected to increase, and being quarantined at home for long periods of time with little to do and low social interaction can cause depression. As long as continue without a vaccine and return to normalcy, the triggers for suicidal thoughts and actions remain dangerously prominent.
Suicidal thoughts, at first, can be very hard to detect because individuals who are experiencing them do not hint to it; trying to hide how they feel and what they are going through as best as possible. Individuals are often very embarrassed of this or nervous as to how their loved ones or peers may react. This is why it is very important to learn to recognize warning signs, even those that are very hard to distinguish. People who are suicidal may experience mood swings, from feeling like they do not belong and do not matter to filled with rage and wanting to seek revenge on someone or something. People who are suicidal may also start to isolate themselves from society, their friends and loved ones; feeling like they are all alone or do not deserve to be alive anymore. But in many cases, people dealing with suicidal thoughts mask their emotions to the point where they seem completely normal and there are no noticeable changes to their personality, mood or daily activities.
Now more than ever, it is important to check up on family, friends, and loved ones to make sure they are doing well. Being isolated, quarantined, and alone has put distance between friends and family, making it easy for us to hide our true emotions and hard for others to know and understand what is really going on inside of us. Simply asking questions, such as “How are you?” can start a conversation that could be life-changing and quite possibly life-saving. Suicide and other mental health issues can be very challenging to talk about and understand, but it is imperative to catch the warning signs and get help as soon as possible.
Suicide is a battle that is especially challenging to fight alone, and fortunately no one needs to do so. Of the hundreds of organizations that help individuals who struggle with depression and suicidal ideations, the best known is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, which can be reached toll-free at 1-800-273-8255. Based in the United States, it is a network of over 160 crisis centers offering 24/7 help and support that remains confidential. Another important resource is the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). The AFSP website offers a wealth of statistical information, real stories from people dealing with suicidal thoughts and other mental illnesses, and ways to get help or make a positive difference in the life of another who may need help. The AFSP website even offers a volunteer Field Advocate program, which allows people to register as advocates for the prevention of suicide.
All too often we regard suicide as an unavoidable problem. But the truth is that we can put up a fight. Reaching out to loved ones and checking in on others can have an enormous impact on their lives, whether we realize it or not. Catching warning signs early on can decrease the chances that the issue escalates. Contacting a doctor, psychiatrist, or organization geared towards prevention and education could, quite literally, save someone’s life.