September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. It’s a time to raise awareness for what has long been a taboo topic. Mental health organizations everywhere use this time to share messages of hope, signs to watch for, and resources for help.
Whether you’re a fan of awareness months or not, the one thing that can not be debated is that this particular initiative has broken down walls and encouraged open and honest conversations about mental health. As a psychologist, I’m thankful for the work of organizations and community members dedicated to building better lives for the millions of Americans affected by mental illness. As a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, I am grateful for the ongoing efforts that are taking place to reach members of this fabulous community that may need a little extra support.
As a psychologist, I see a lot of data. According to research, suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24. But what’s even more startling is that the research shows LGBTQIA+ youth seriously contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate of heterosexual youth. They are nearly five times as likely to have attempted suicide. These are scary and unacceptable stats.
One of the most significant protective factors is social support. Most of us know someone struggling with mental illness; but, what if it becomes something more? Would you recognize the signs that someone may need help? It is not uncommon to dismiss observed changes in behaviors or mood – we might think the person is just in a bad mood or “hangry.” However, it’s essential to know the signs and be sincerely present by asking questions and actively listening. It might be uncomfortable to ask questions, but I encourage you to lean into that discomfort. If you stumble over your words, tell them you are trying to find the right thing to say, that may come out wrong, but you care and want to help however you can.
It’s important to know that the behaviors of a person experiencing a crisis can be unpredictable and change dramatically without warning. If you know someone who is experiencing the following, it may be a warning sign that their mental health struggles are veering out of control:
- Increased alcohol and drug use
- Aggressive behavior
- Withdrawal from friends, family, and community
- Dramatic mood swings
- Impulsive or reckless behavior
Being aware of the various risk factors for a mental health condition can help us ask meaningful questions and take preventative steps to improve the wellness of our community and ourselves. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 46 percent of people who die by suicide had a known mental health condition. In addition, the following factors can increase one’s risk for suicide:
- Family history
- A chronic medical condition
- History of trauma or abuse
- Prolonged stress
- A recent tragedy or loss
- Chronic substance use
- Feelings of hopelessness
While these warning signs and risk factors are pretty broad, they provide an underlying theme: Everyone benefits from having someone to talk to and who cares. The truth is that we do not know everything there is to know about suicide, but we do know people benefit from perceived social support. Supporting one another helps improve our overall wellness, which leads to a better quality of life. Many of us, including myself, know at least one person who has died by suicide, and that is a scary reality. We, as a community, can help shift that reality so that our sexual minority status doesn’t automatically make us a statistical risk factor.
If you suspect someone is struggling and experiencing a suicide crisis, be patient and don’t be afraid to ask questions and take action. Express support and concern. Encourage the person to seek help, and if it’s a mental health crisis, here are some options to contact:
- Maricopa County Crisis: (local) 602-222-9444 or (national) 800-327-9254
- National Lifeline (adults): 800-273-8255
- Text Crisis Line: text HELLO to 741741
- Teen LifeLine: (local) 602-248-8336 or (national) 1-800-248-8336
- Call 911 for immediate response for someone else
About the author
Dr. William Marsh is a Clinical Director and a primary supervisor for the APA accredited clinical psychology internship program with Southwest Behavioral & Health Services. With all areas of his work, he incorporates his passion for fostering positive interpersonal dynamics that help others identify, support, and reach their goals and dreams. More information about programs and services is available at www.sbhservices.org.