September is Suicide Prevention Month, and its message of paying attention to the signs is more important now than, perhaps, ever.
With an abundance mental health issues spurring from the pandemic, suicide prevention and awareness is crucial. People are struggling to cope with the additional stresses of isolation, working from home, learning from home, fear ... . It all takes a toll.
“We don’t have good evidence yet of what the results of this pandemic are in terms of suicide. We do know there’s an increase in suicidal thoughts and we also know that some places are reporting an increase in calls to hotlines, but we don’t know about actual suicides yet,” said Stacey Freedenthal, a psychotherapist and associate professor at the University of Denver Graduate School of Social Work and author of “Helping the Suicidal Person.” Freedenthal was interviewed earlier this month for “The Takeaway” podcast on New York Public Radio.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in four young adults ages 18-24 seriously contemplated committing suicide this summer. But that thinking is not limited to any age group: 16% of adults ages 25-44 and almost 4% of adults ages 45-64 considered taking their own lives.
The CDC says these numbers likely are connected to the life changes brought by the pandemic.
Take note that the numbers before the pandemic were already very high: The latest available data from the CDC estimates that 48,344 people died by suicide in 2018.
“When a population experiences something traumatic, such as a pandemic or a natural disaster, researchers usually expect a rise in mental illnesses in the weeks and months following the event,” states a recent report on NPR’s “All Things Considered.”
However, “the mental health toll of the coronavirus pandemic seems to be far greater than previous mass traumas,” said Catherine Ettman, a doctoral student in public health at Brown University and an author of the study “Depression Symptoms in US Adults Before and During the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Pandemic,” published in the current issue of the American Medical Association journal JAMA Network Open.
But there is some good news: We can help each other.
“The one thing we know that can prevent suicide is connection,” said Freedenthal.
During National Suicide Prevention Month, Pikes Peak Suicide Prevention is promoting small things people can do every day to help prevent suicide.
Calling a friend, relative, neighbor or acquaintance you haven’t spoken to in a while to see how they’re doing, offering to accompany someone to a support group, going on a walk or hike with a few people who might be in need of companionship and offering to run an errand for someone are among the ideas, as reported in an article published in The Gazette last week.
Pikes Peak Suicide Prevention is fielding more calls from parents inquiring about resources for adult children who have been displaced from their jobs, homes, colleges or significant relationships, the organization’s executive director Cassandra Walton said in the Gazette article, adding those displacements “all increase the risk for suicide.”
The organization’s peer-support services, connecting youth and adults with others in their age group facing the same challenges, have become the most popular resource offered, Walton said.
Anyone needing assistance can call the local prevention office at 573-7447, or the Colorado Crisis Service line, 844-493-8255, or text “talk” to 38255.
Also, NAMI Colorado Springs is offering some free virtual courses to help support those struggling with mental health issues:
• NAMI Basics: free, virtual, six-week course for parents and other caregivers of children and adolescents showing signs of mental illness. Tuesdays, Oct. 6-Nov. 9, 6-8:30 p.m.
• NAMI Family-to-Family: free, virtual course for family members of adults experiencing mental illness. Wednesdays, Sept. 30-Nov. 18, 6-8:30 p.m.
• NAMI Family-to-Family: free, virtual course for family members of adults experiencing mental illness. Mondays, Oct. 12-Nov. 30, 6-8:30 p.m.
• NAMI Peer-to-Peer: free, virtual course for adults experiencing mental illness. Thursdays, Sept. 24-Nov. 19, 6:30-8:30 p.m.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s theme for the month is #KeepGoing by taking simple actions to safeguard our mental health and save lives.
I’m reminded of a helpful phrase I’ve kept in mind: “When it comes to getting through hard times, you have a 100% success rate.”
Just #KeepGoing. And don’t be afraid to reach out for help if and when you need it.
Editor of the four Pikes Peak Newspapers weeklies, Michelle Karas has called the Pikes Peak region home for more than five years. Contact Michelle with column or story ideas, feedback and letters to the editor at email@example.com.