GUEST COLUMN: Suicide Prevention Month ends, but awareness should last all year long

Published 8:00 am Wednesday, September 28, 2022

By Wendy Bailey |Executive Director, Mississippi Department of Mental Health

The month of September is National Suicide Prevention Month, a time to recognize the warning signs and symptoms that indicate someone may be struggling with suicidal thoughts, and a time to spread the message of hope that things can and do get better and no one should hesitate to speak up and seek help for themselves or others they love.
We join other states and mental health advocates and providers in recognizing this message each September, but it’s vital that we don’t stop sharing it when the month ends. The message of National Suicide Prevention Month is one that everyone needs to hear and take to heart, no matter what time of year it is — suicidal thoughts can affect anyone regardless of age, gender or background, but services are available to provide the hope and the help you may need.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that in 2020, nearly 46,000 Americans died by suicide. Of those, 410 were our fellow Mississippians. In Mississippi, suicide is the third leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 24. Many of our friends, family members and neighbors who died by suicide were likely struggling with mental health issues that could have been treated. Issues like anxiety and depression can become so overwhelming that they affect our everyday lives. Illnesses like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia can affect someone’s thinking, feeling and perception. Suicidal thoughts may be a symptom of these struggles and illnesses, but like other symptoms, they can be treated.
The first step towards getting treatment is simply by speaking up, whether that means asking for help yourself or asking a loved one if they need help. It can be a difficult conversation to have, but normalizing these topics can let people know that it’s OK to seek help. By asking questions and simply checking in with our friends and families, we can avoid tragedy. If you feel like you need to seek help yourself, there is a new resource that is making that easier than ever.
This summer, the nationwide launch of 988 nationwide provided a new, easy-to-reach number for the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. The Lifeline connects callers with trained crisis counselors who can help people experiencing thoughts of suicide, mental health or substance use crisis, or any other kind of emotional distress. You can call 988 at any time to reach help for yourself or for someone else who may need crisis support.
The introduction of 988 is the first step of a transformed crisis care system that ultimately envisions anyone in a mental health crisis having someone to call, someone to respond to them, and a safe place to go for crisis care. This transformation will take time, it will take the efforts of national, state, and local partners, and it will take a willingness to talk about difficult topics like suicide and mental health any time that discussion — no matter what time of year it is — is needed.
As we enter October and leave September and National Suicide Prevention Month behind us, know that this recognition is one that is needed all year long. If you are having thoughts of harming yourself, do not hesitate to call 988 today, and for more information about services near you, call the Department of Mental Health Helpline at 1-877-210-8513 or visit the Mental Health Mississippi website at www.mentalhealthms.com.

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