A Call for Change: How to Contribute to Suicide Prevention

Five ways you can help promote suicide awareness and mental health care.

Posted Jun 08, 2018

On Tuesday June 5th, the loss of Kate Spade resounded through the media. Considering Spade's successes, the overwhelming response of shock from fans and celebrities began to open a discourse surrounding mental health. Although her family was aware of her struggles with anxiety and depression, her loss was met with disbelief, thus highlighting the need for suicide prevention. Only a few days later, news struck of the passing of culinary extraordinaire, Anthony Bourdain. Known as the “Elvis of bad boy chefs,” the esteemed culinary artist, author, and media personality was transparent about his struggles with substance use, particularly in his book Kitchen Confidential. However, in parallel to the loss of Kate Spade, Bourdain’s loss was met with shock, further highlighting the need for mental health awareness and suicide prevention.

As you honor the lives of these exceptional talents in their fields, you may be struck by the staggering statistics surrounding suicide. It can be difficult to realize that rate of suicide is increasing across the nation. Each year, we lose 44,965 Americans by suicide. Learning such facts may cause you to wonder what you can do to help. It's time to change.

Pixabay
Source: Pixabay

Here is what you can do to contribute to suicide prevention:

Recognize the prevalence.

Understanding the prevalence of mental health concerns can inform how you contribute to change. Across the globe, one in four people are affected by a mental health condition or neurological disorder in their lifetime. About one in five Americans are facing a mental health problem. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in regards to suicide, within the past year about 1.3 million adults have attempted suicide, 2.7 million adults have had a plan to attempt suicide, and 9.3 million adults have had suicidal thoughts. Above all, these concerns do not discriminate from person to person. Suicide affects all people regardless of age, gender, socioeconomic status, nationality, etc. Recognizing the prevalence of mental health concerns, specifically suicide, helps us to see that the problem is widespread. Awareness of the need to improve may seem small, but it is the first, crucial step.   

Expand your mental health knowledge.

There are hundreds of mental health concerns, and to contribute to suicide prevention, you do not need to become versed in each and every diagnosis. However, it may be helpful to learn general, yet important, information about mental health. You can learn more by attending a course, engaging in meetings, discussing with a mental health professional, or researching reputable online sources.

Examples of useful resources include:

The National Institute on Mental Health

The National Alliance on Mental Illnesses

Mental Health America

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Specific to suicide, it is helpful to know the risk factors, warning signs, and protective factors. Suicide is not caused by a single factor. Learning the breadth of potential factors, from prior history to recent financial instability, can be helpful to knowing when someone is at risk for a serious problem. To learn more about risk factors you can visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

In addition to risk factors, it is helpful to know how to recognize when someone is in imminent danger. For example, if someone is talking about suicide, withdrawing, increasing their substance use, and having extreme changes in mood, these may be external signs that they are contemplating suicide. To learn more about risk factors you can visit the Suicide Awareness Voices of Education.

Finally, if you know someone is at risk, there are ways that you can help to support them, such as keeping them in a protected environment, providing support, and encouraging them to seek help.To learn more about protective factors, you can view the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Technical Package of Policy, Programs, and Practices.

Know how to seek help.

Expanding your knowledge in mental health can enable you to recognize when help is needed. Following this recognition, you need to know where to turn. Starting from the inside out, if you recognize these signs in yourself, you may realize that you need help of your own. Mental Health America provides a helpful toolkit to help you foster your own mental health. Depending on your level of concern(s), you may need the help of a trained professional. You can start by using a directory, asking someone who you know seeks help for a recommendation, or using a referral from a mental health organization or your insurance company.

If you notice warning signs and risk factors in someone you know, you can encourage them to seek help as well. Understand that the way you would approach this topic may vary from person to person, as needs may differ for each unique individual. Furthermore, speaking to a child about mental health may warrant a different approach from approaching an adult. Nevertheless, providing support in the process can be helpful for individuals who are at risk for suicide.

Recognize the barriers.

Sometimes seeking help, such as using the methods above, is not as simple as it may seem. It is important to recognize that barriers may prevent more than half of Americans from getting the help they need. For one, there are several stereotypes about mental health and treatment that can serve as obstacles in getting help. Specific to suicide, individuals may be worried that they would be seen as attention-seeking, burdensome, and weak. Further, due to the fear of having their problems minimized or dismissed, they may be wary to ask for help. Just as mental health problems do not discriminate, the vast scope of stigma affects individuals regardless of age, gender, nationality, etc. 

Although pervasive stigma often serves as an obstacle, it is not the only common barrier to consider. An individual may be aware of concerns and may wish to make a change; however, there may be obstacles that inhibit their accessibility to services. For example, an individual may not have providers in their local region, insurance coverage, or the necessary transportation or financial resources. Accessibility may play a large role in the reasoning behind why more than half of Americans do not seek treatment. Unchecked mental illness can lead to decreased performance at school or work, affect susceptibility to physical health conditions, and may lead to suicide. When accessibility is the key concern, advocacy is needed.

Be an advocate.

You can use your mental health awareness and knowledge to contribute to change. Conversations are an opportunity for you to both learn and share knowledge. An active dialogue can be a helpful tool in dispelling stigma. Additionally, you can help by being conscientious of the language you use and the messages you convey about mental health. Be mindful of perpetuating stereotypes, devaluing others, and sharing inaccurate information. Further, if you hear this type of language, perhaps you have the opportunity to open a dialogue and politely dispel the underlying stigma.

Advocacy is a helpful way to make mental health care more accessible. It is important to be aware of how policies may affect mental health. For example, it's helpful to note that accessibility has improved, particularly in states in which Medicaid has been expanded to include provisions. Being knowledgeable about mental health reform legislation can empower you to contact policymakers to promote change.

Beyond policy, there are other ways to be an advocate for mental health care and suicide prevention. For example, you can donate to a mental health organization, volunteer at mental health event, join a walk for a cause, or find or start a local chapter. Each organization has a way to be involved, and you can find the best method that works for you.

Finally, you do not need to be restricted to your local area. Mental health organizations support the use of social media in expanding awareness, promoting mental health care, engaging in important conversations, and contributing to the community. You can spread the word and connect globally through social media. From this angle, spreading the word is easy. Your contribution could begin with a post, tweet, or boomerang. Sharing your voice can help decrease stigma, improve knowledge, and ignite change.

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts please seek help.

Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or chat online.

If you are experiencing a substance misuse problem please seek help.

Call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

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