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Special to the News
In a world often bustling with the noise of daily life, there exists a silent epidemic that claims far too many lives each year – suicide. In the past 20 years, there has been a 32% increase in the rate of suicide deaths in the United States with more than 41,000 recorded deaths by suicide in 2021.
Suicide is a global concern, affecting individuals of all ages, races and backgrounds. It’s an issue that demands our attention, empathy and action. Suicide prevention and awareness are crucial steps toward reducing the tragic toll it takes on individuals, families and communities.
Across the U.S., September is set aside as National Suicide Prevention Month, an annual observance dedicated to raising awareness about suicide, its prevention and the importance of mental health.
“National Suicide Prevention Month is a great opportunity for us at AltaPointe Health to help educate the public about the warning signs of suicide, provide information about available resources and promote open conversations about mental health and suicide prevention,” explained Ashley Blount, a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) with AltaPointe Health. “Our mental and emotional health is just as important as our physical health for our overall well-being and ability to function in our daily lives.”
Understanding the Crisis
The first step in suicide prevention is understanding the factors that contribute to this crisis. Mental health struggles; such as depression, anxiety and substance abuse; often play a significant role. Isolation, loneliness and the feeling of being a burden can exacerbate these struggles.
“And when the pandemic hit, all of these risk factors only increased. When the spread of COVID-19 reached our community here in Washington County, we began to see an increase in the number of individuals coming in for mental health assessments,” explained Blount. “Seeing sickness and loss, both on a local and larger scale, can be frightening. Many of our patients experienced an increase in anxiety, fearfulness, sadness, grief, as well as isolation.”
Another major contributor to the current crisis is that societal stigma around mental health can deter people from seeking help when they need it most. Research found that 3 out of 4 persons who died by suicide between 2003 and 2018 were not in treatment for a mental health or substance use disorder at the time of their death, and 2 out 3 had never received any treatment.
Breaking the Silence
One of the most important aspects of suicide prevention is encouraging open conversations about mental health. People should feel safe discussing their feelings and seeking support.
“One way that you can start a conversation about mental health is by simply checking in with your family members, friends, coworkers, and neighbors. Ask them how they are doing in their everyday lives,” said Blount. “If they seem to be struggling emotionally, you can remind them that they are not alone and that there are resources available to help support them in their time of need.”
By talking regularly about emotions and feelings helps to destigmatize mental health issues, we can make it easier for individuals to seek help before their problems escalate to a crisis point.
Spotting the Warning Signs
Awareness of the warning signs of suicidal ideation is another crucial aspect of prevention. Some common signs include talking about wanting to die, feeling hopeless or trapped, increased substance use, withdrawing from friends and family, and giving away possessions. Recognizing these signs and taking them seriously can make a life-saving difference.
“We cannot ignore the warning signs and symptoms associated with suicidal ideation when we recognize them in our own lives or the life of someone else. One simple conversation about how they may be feeling, a kind word of encouragement, or an offer to help them reach out for treatment in their time of struggle may be the very thing that helps them realize their worth and know that their life matters,” added Blount.
If you or someone you know is struggling with suicidal thoughts, it is essential to seek help immediately. One of the easiest ways to do that is by dialing 988. The 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress and their loved ones.
“It’s okay to ask for help. Realizing our own needs and limitations is actually a strength, and having the courage to reach out to others is one of the first steps in recovery and finding the solutions we are looking for,” explained Blount. “Everyone was created for a purpose. Every life has value and great worth, even if you don’t believe that right now. We live in a world full of people, and we all carry burdens or experience stressful situations that may require us to seek help beyond our everyday social circle of influence. As a professional working in the mental health field, I want people to realize that partnering with them to help them realize their worth and getting to know their story is one of my greatest passions and something I am honored to take part in.”
AltaPointe Health is an extensive mental healthcare system that serves Coosa County, as well as six other counties in Alabama. AltaPointe offers counseling and psychiatric services for adults, families and children. It also offers community-based services like school-based therapy and the Stepping Up Initiative with the legal system. AltaPointe’s access to care team can help an individual find the right program to fit their needs by calling 251-450-2211.