In recent years, people have grown more comfortable discussing mental health. Much of the stigma that wrongfully surrounded mental illness, counseling, therapy and mental health has thankfully evaporated. Yet talking about suicide and suicide prevention is still frightening for many people.
Sept. 5-11 is National Suicide Prevention week, when mental health advocates, prevention organizations and community members come together to promote suicide prevention awareness. Yes, it’s a weighty subject, but the best way to help people isn’t to keep quiet — it’s much more helpful to talk about it.
“The first thing you can do is just listen actively. Approach the situation non-judgmentally and genuinely,” says James Hellekson, M.D., psychiatrist at Monument Health Behavioral Health Center. “I think the most important thing is just being there for a person you care about. Just being an active listener can help people deal with those situations.”
Many people worry that talking to someone about suicide will give them the idea or make them more likely to take actions, but research indicates that isn’t true. In fact, people who have suicidal thoughts feel relief when they can talk about them with someone. Having the opportunity to speak with someone who listens, without judgment, is likely to make individuals feel less overwhelmed, less depressed and less suicidal.
“Especially over the past year, people have come to realize how important mental health and self care truly are,” says Trina Allen, Vice President of Human Resources. “It has been a stressful, challenging year for many people, and that’s why we want to make sure that our caregivers and physicians have all the support that they need.”
This support includes free and confidential counseling sessions accessible to Monument Health physicians and caregivers, both through the medical plan and through an Employee Assistance Program that is available to all employees, regardless of their benefits elections.
If you or someone you know is struggling, reach out to someone. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention provides a number of resources for suicide prevention. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7 for free and confidential support at 1-800-273-8255, and also has an online chat option available at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/chat/. The National Alliance on Mental Illness provides a free help line at 1-800-950-6264, and help is also available by texting 741741. In the Black Hills area, help is also available by dialing 2-1-1.
“I think with mental health becoming less stigmatized, we have seen a bigger investment in mental health services,” says Dr. Hellekson. “Our treatments have improved, and a lot of the medicines we use to treat conditions like depression and anxiety have gotten better. There’s a bigger push on a community level to try and identify people’s mental health problems earlier, especially in schools, which is a positive change.”