Suicide–a word that often makes people uncomfortable and a subject we often avoid due to perceived sensitivities, apprehension and fear. However, choosing to not talk about suicide and mental health is detrimental, as silence only makes it more taboo.
Mental health services are essential to the wellbeing of our communities and the past several months have seen an increased demand for behavioral healthcare in light of COVID-19. A recent CDC study revealed that 25% of young adults [ages 18-24] have contemplated suicide since the pandemic began, and roughly 30% said they had symptoms of anxiety or depression. Although physical distancing measures have recently prevented in-person therapies, seeking help is still more important than ever.
Rappahannock Area Community Services Board (RACSB) understood the need for continued behavioral health services amid the pandemic and quickly transitioned the majority of their clinical appointments to take place online instead of in person. Suicide prevention is a notable aspect of the work the Virginia-based, community behavioral health agency conducts, which has not ceased despite limited face-to-face interaction. Not only have RACSB suicide prevention services continued among the rest of their care delivery, they’ve also spoke on community platform to reach individuals who might be experiencing extreme loss of hope right now.
“There’s a lot going on right now, and depression and suicide can affect anyone,” RACSB Director of Clinical Services Jacqueline Kobuchi said. “People need to know where and how to get help. In addition to our services, we’ve gotten on local radio stations and worked with the local newspaper to talk about mental health during COVID and how to access care.”
The pandemic has undoubtedly caused major loss for many people, whether that be a loss of a loved one, a job or financial stability, which can cause individuals to feel helpless. If we know someone who is experiencing severe depression or potential suicidal behavior, how can we properly support and assist them? Kobuchi recommends with empathy and listening ears. If you see someone exhibiting behaviors such as withdrawing from family and friends, heightened lack of motivation and unwillingness to complete daily activities such as eating and sleeping, it’s important you talk with them candidly and compassionately. When in doubt, ask.
“The best way to find out if someone is suicidal is to ask. It’s totally okay to ask people directly,” Kobuchi said. “That’s not going to put thoughts in someone’s head or cause them to be suicidal. It’s better to talk about it so there is no vagueness about how they’re feeling.”
It’s important for parents to have these conversations with their kids, too. Talking about mental health at an early age is highly beneficial and helps kids better understand and express their emotions. When parents discuss mental health, it gives kids the opportunity to learn the vocabulary necessary to talk about how they’re feeling.
“Start having conversations with children about mental health as soon as possible,” Kobuchi said. “We should be discussing mental wellness as often as we talk about brushing our teeth or eating healthy.”
Sometimes, it’s not kids’ or other people’s mental wellness we have to look out for–it’s our own. If you are feeling depressed or have any thoughts of suicide, know that you are never alone. Help and support is always available. If you are feeling hopeless, don’t be afraid of telling someone. Do your best to find ways to connect with people even if it’s not in person, such as reaching out through social media or joining an online support group. Take time for activities that fill you up, such as going on a long walk or talking on the phone with a friend or family member. If necessary, professional guidance is always a great way to discuss anxiety, depression or suicidal thoughts. Do not hesitate to call the Suicide Prevention Hotline if you are considering harming yourself or need someone to talk to immediately.
Kobuchi said that it’s also important for us to readjust our current mindset during this unprecedented time.
“It’s okay if we sort of just survive through this global pandemic right now,” she said. “This is a hard time, and we don’t need to be pushing ourselves to do the most. Prioritize your health and wellbeing, and don’t be too hard on yourself if things look a little different right now.”
Although COVID-19 has caused a lot of unrest and heightened or newly surfaced mental health issues, anxiety, depression and suicide are not unique to the pandemic. Individuals battle behavioral health issues regardless of the current climate and will continue to experience these emotions long after the coronavirus is at bay. Therefore, it is essential we continue the conversation and take actionable steps to ensure we are always supporting each other and prioritizing our own mental health.
Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training is a great way to educate yourself on crisis intervention and behavioral health support. The training is a skills-based course that teaches attendees ways to offer support to someone who may be experiencing a mental health or substance use related crisis. While September may be Suicide Prevention Month, these discussions and support systems continue all year long. No one is immune to mental health issues; reach out to others, ask for help when you need it and give each other and yourself a little grace when working through difficult times.
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