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Published on November 16, 2018

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Suicide Prevention Requires Everyone’s Attention

As suicide rates in America continue to increase, everyone can play a role in prevention.

Whether it’s at a health care visit or conversations with friends and family, people still feel the stigma. “There’s an unfortunate willingness for people who are facing challenges to just say ‘I’m fine’ and move on. That’s why it requires everyone’s help – friends, family, teachers and health care workers – to combat this threat,” said Matthew Stanley, DO, Avera Medical Group psychiatrist and Clinical Vice President of Avera’s Behavioral Health Service Line.

Fears of Opening Up

A first step is providing a supportive place for a depressed or anxious person to speak up.

“One myth we should bust is the idea that if we ask someone if they have considered suicide that we’re somehow planting a seed for that action. That’s false. We should ask people if they say they feel depressed if they have had suicidal thoughts,” Stanley said. “It opens that conversation.”

From there, professional treatment, including counseling, medication and other approaches, do lead to good results. But bias stands in the way.

“The Midwest is in many ways among the worst places to face these challenges, because of the preconceptions or myths people believe. It’s up to all of us to make those conversations happen. Mental health issues and suicide affect us all as a society. So we start with ourselves – and get people to the resources that are proven to be effective,” Stanley said.

Zero Suicide and Better Approaches

Behavioral health tools, including screenings and assessments, have been implemented across the entire Avera system to ensure people get the help they need. It’s known as the Zero Suicide Initiative.

“From our largest facilities to our smallest clinics in rural settings, we are including a focus on mental health as a part of all aspects of care, from pediatrics to geriatrics.”

High-risk situations are identified using these tools. Looking for the warning signs on the clinical side of the equation can help to stem the tide.

Just Talk, Don’t Judge

Warning signs include a person seeming more withdrawn, more depressed, using more alcohol or drugs or giving things away.

“That’s when you try to start that conversation, and you do it by being present and asking them if they have felt more down, or felt like they have considered hurting themselves,” Stanley said. “It’s not easy, and it’s important not to judge this person. They are hurting – we wouldn’t judge a person with cancer or someone who tore ligaments in their knee. It’s a starting point and one that can lead to professional help.”

Stanley advises using balance – not panicking or overreacting. Stay with them, and help them call a suicide prevention line, a counselor or a clinic. In some cases, calling 911 may be the best choice to avoid a tragic situation.

“People may be afraid to admit they have had suicidal thoughts. They may fear they will lose their freedom, but again, these are among the myths of mental illness. Non-voluntary committals are rare, and we have much more success working with voluntary patients who seek help,” Stanley said.

“It can be hard to guess if the situation is serious. The best approach is to be there without judgment, to help the person get professional help if needed and to use the resources available at clinics, through the 211 Helpline or other call center or to call 911. We can, as a culture, smash the stigma that is preventing intervention and help those people who need us,” Stanley said.

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