As mental health providers, few in the world want to bring more awareness to suicide prevention than you. You know firsthand the impact, the weight, and the prevalence that suicide has on society today. With September being Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, we set aside time precisely to reflect on how we, as people, can improve upon how we approach this sensitive issue. As providers, it is a time to think critically about how to better serve the patients that come to you in need and shine a light on the ones who haven’t sought out help just yet.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, in 2020, suicide was the 12th leading cause of death in the United States, with 45,979 having died and 1.20 million people have attempted it. For age ranges 10-14 and 25-34, suicide moves up to the second leading cause of death and is the third leading cause of death for those between the ages of 15-24 (National Institute of Mental Health, 2022). On a global scale, the suicide mortality rate in 2018 was 1.4% of the entire world population.
Now and past the month of September, we want to highlight ways that mental health providers can raise awareness for suicide prevention in practice.
4 Ways Mental Health Providers Can Raise Suicide Awareness:
One thing that mental health providers need to remember is that they are the experts in their field. There is no one better to tear down the stigma that surrounds mental health than those who are most knowledgeable on the subject. Providers can spend time spreading information around their community on the impact of mental health services. The first step is to identify underserved areas in your community or areas in which stigma thrives and deliver education the best way you can. This could be through informational sheets, participating in community events, teaching classes, or sending out newsletters. Whatever way works best for your organization is the right way. The more information you can share with your community, the better. The positive spin to this is that the more you show face in your community, the more likely you are to build your client base.
Know the Risk Factors
There is a huge range of variables and factors that can lead an individual to become more or less at risk for suicide. As a provider, you are responsible for knowing these risks backward and forwards so you can easily identify them in your clients and patients. According to the CDC, risk factors for suicide break down into four categories:
- Individual – Previous suicide attempts, history of mental illness, chronic pain, financial stress, substance use, traumatic experiences, etc.
- Relationship – Bullying, family history of suicide, loss, conflict/violence, isolation
- Community – lack of healthcare, community violence, discrimination
- Societal – Mental health stigma, easy access to means, media portrayal of suicide
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Know the Warning Signs
Just as you’re responsible for knowing the factors that put someone at risk for being suicidal, you need to know the warning signs of suicide. The more familiar you are with the risks and signs, the more likely you are to prevent a suicide from taking place, and the more you can educate others on this information as well. Common warning signs of suicidal thoughts, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, include:
- Talking about – walking to die, great guilt/shame, the burden on others
- Feelings of – hopelessness, being trapped, no reason to live, sadness, anxiety, pain
- Behavior such as – plans for suicide, withdrawing from friends, gift giving, goodbyes, making a will, risk-taking, mood swings, and substance use.
Give as many resources to your clients as possible. If you have people around you who want to be aware of the risks and signs, have informational sheets available for them to learn from. If you have clients who are struggling with thoughts of suicide, first do your job to assess their risk and get them to a place of safety and then connect them with every hotline, crisis number, and community resource they might need now or in the future. The more resources and educational resources you can provide your clients and your community, the better.
Break Down Barriers to Mental Healthcare
Lastly, the best thing you can do to raise awareness for suicide prevention for mental health is to break down barriers to mental healthcare. Common barriers include distance, life barriers like work or childcare, and mental health deserts. How can you help? One of the fastest ways providers can eliminate barriers to care is to implement a quality telehealth solution. Telehealth can eliminate the need to travel to and from visits, allowing patients to meet with their provider virtually or over the phone.
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National Institute of Mental Health. (2022, March). Suicide. National Institute of Mental Health. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/suicide#:~:text=The%20total%20age%2Dadjusted%20suicide,13.5%20per%20100%2C000%20in%202020.