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Published on January 02, 2018

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Helping People Who Feel Hopeless

When the festivity of the holiday season comes to an end, the rest of a long winter can feel like too much. For people who face depression and anxiety, the earlier sunsets and cold can truly feel like an unbearable burden.

That burden can be expressed in many ways. People may withdraw more, or disconnect from activities that once gave them pleasure. In some cases, an overwhelming sense of hopelessness or a desire to end emotional pain can lead to action, and in the grimmest of cases, those actions can lead to suicide.

While suicide rates fluctuate from one time of year to another, agencies that provide support do notice upticks in crisis calls during January. Janet Kittams-Lalley, president of the Helpline Center in Sioux Falls, said that while the Helpline is available 24/7 by dialing 211, preventing suicide is a community-based effort.

“Each of us can take a role, and it could be as simple as starting a conversation,” she said. “You might notice that someone you care about is skipping a class you share, or has stopped talking as much. That’s when anyone can just ask if they are OK.”

That step can make a huge difference, Kittams-Lalley said. It can be intimidating, too, she realizes, but encourages anyone who wants to be there for someone who is struggling.

“When we open up and really listen, we can help those people who feel there’s nothing to hope for or to live for,” she said. “They might be defensive, but you’re reaching out to them because you care – that’s the bottom line and why it takes a community. You’re letting them know you’re there for them.”

Kittams-Lalley said the Helpline team fields many calls from family members or friends of individuals who may face depression. So if you’re anxious about what to say, and know something needs to be said – you have help.

“We can walk you through that conversation. The important thing to remember is that you care about this person, and there are steps that can help them get through the tough times,” Kittams-Lalley said. “In some cases, we ask them to put the person on the phone, or we can call them back.”

Awareness of suicide prevention is crucial, and it’s a part of what health systems including Avera are doing to assess risk and reduce the forbidding numbers of deaths from this national crisis.

“As a health system, we touch a lot of lives and that’s why we have incorporated more screening methods in more settings in an effort to help all who may need help,” said Matthew Stanley, DO, Avera Medical Group psychiatrist.

Avera is part of the Zero Suicide Initiative, a national program that aims to reduce suicides with a number of efforts, from the screenings and attention paid at all sorts of clinical appointments, to reducing potential dangers in homes where a person may have suicidal thoughts.

“People can be afraid to bring it up, or to lend that support people need, sometimes because they follow the mythology that mentioning suicide to someone can actually plant the seed,” he said. “That is a myth, but it is an uncomfortable conversation to have, and that’s why we remind people of the resources available.”

“There are many people who have called us and now are feeling a lot better and doing a lot better,” Kittams-Lalley said. “Being there for someone shows you care – and it takes heightened awareness from us all in order for us to have greater success.”

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Avera is a health ministry rooted in the Gospel. Our mission is to make a positive impact in the lives and health of persons and communities by providing quality services guided by Christian values.

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