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Mental Health Awareness

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Suicide: Risks, factors, triggers and how to help someone in need

Nationally, suicide statistics are on the rise: on average, one person dies by suicide every five hours; most by gunshot wound. For every suicide, there are 25 attempts made. It’s estimated those who die by suicide leave behind at least seven loved ones to deal with the loss.

In Erie County, however, suicide rates are starting to decrease, a fact Jessica Pirro, LMSW, Chief Executive Officer of Crisis Services, attributes to stricter gun laws and a greater awareness of suicide prevention.

“There’s a concentrated effort to educate the general public around suicide and mental illness and train first responders, primary care physicians and school staff,” says Pirro. “We’ve seen an uptick in calls to our hotline, which is actually a hopeful sign that more people are seeking help.”

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention website, there is no single cause to suicide; it typically occurs when stressors exceed coping abilities.

Common stressors include: undiagnosed depression or other health factors, such as a mental health condition, chronic pain or terminal illness; a traumatic brain injury that impedes the ability to process and manage judgment; exposure to suicide or a family history of suicide; a previous attempt at suicide and life-changing events.

If you’re concerned someone might be suicidal, look for changes in behavior or new behaviors, especially if related to a painful event, loss or change. Most people who take their lives exhibit one or more warning signs, either through how they talk (feeling hopeless or trapped; being a burden; being in pain or having no reason to live), their behavior (increased drug or alcohol use; withdrawing from activities; isolating from friends and family; sleeping too much or too little; giving away prized possessions; increased aggression or searching online for ways to end their life) or their mood (depression; anxiety; loss of interest; irritability; humiliation/shame; agitation/anger; relief/sudden improvement).

If someone you love is exhibiting any of these signs, get involved. Show interest and support. Talk openly and directly about suicide, and be willing to listen, to let them express their feelings and fears without showing shock, dismay or judgment. Don’t lecture on the value of life. Offer hope that alternatives to suicide are available and help them seek support. And don’t go it alone—get help from persons or agencies specializing in crisis intervention and suicide prevention.

“Crisis Services’ hotline is available 24/7, as is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline,” says Pirro. “We can provide access to community resources, supportive counseling and intervention. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of giving a person the opportunity to talk, process what they are experiencing and learn how to safely manage their thoughts.”

Crisis Services’ Mobile Outreach Team goes directly to a person contemplating suicide to help keep them safe and take them to the hospital, if need be. “We’re also working closely with a variety of community stakeholders to dispel the myths about mental health and suicide, create awareness and emphasize there is support for those in need.”

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