‘Hope is possible’: Expert gives advice during Suicide Prevention Week

Sep 10, 2020, 5:00 PM

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Thursday is National Suicide Prevention Day, which promotes awareness and the worldwide commitment to prevent suicides.

Although the numbers seem daunting, experts say they believe it’s possible to reach zero suicides. 

“None of us are alone, even when we’re alone in our home,” Anna Lieber, clinical director at Salt Lake Behavioral Health Hospital, told KSL NewsRadio’s Amanda Dickson Thursday. “All of us are on this journey together.”

Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, mental health challenges among Americans increased over the summer months, according to data from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. However, Lieber said there is still hope. 

“We do that primarily by listening and reaching out and asking questions,” she said. 

Reaching out to those in need

During the coronavirus pandemic, more people are spending time in doors to practice social distancing. However, this increases the risk of social isolation which can be damaging to one’s mental health. 

Lieber said she recommends checking in on everyone that seems to be going through a crisis or a hard time. In 2020, that could be almost anybody. 

“I think we’re all struggling to some extent this year in 2020 with everything going on,” Lieber said. “So I think we ask everyone, ‘Are you struggling? […] How can I help?'”

Although it’s hard to tell, COVID-19 has caused mental health stressors for everyone with varying degrees. However, Lieber said experts are seeing rises in problems specifically regarding anxiety and substance abuse amid the pandemic. 

She said the Salt Lake Behavioral Health Hospital has also experienced more calls to its hotlines, with a sharp increase beginning in May. 

Suicide prevention: When to help

Although there are general warning signs that are common among those at-risk for suicide, Lieber said it’s not always that simple. Contrary to public belief, not everyone who will commit suicide struggles with depression. 

“[Suicide] is pretty non-discriminatory in who it impacts,” she said. 

However, there are some flags to watch out for: 

  • Statements related to suicide or wishes to die
  • Previous attempts of suicide or self-harm
  • Substance abuse
  • Sudden changes in behavior — whether it’s a sudden change to increased optimism or sadness
  • Making final arrangements or saying final goodbyes

However, some people may not do any of those things, according to Lieber. 

Eliminating the stigma surrounding mental health

One of the most important aspects of preventing suicide, Lieber said, is eliminating the stigma and negative connotations surrounding mental health. After all, she said, mental health is something every has — because “mental” just means “human.” 

“I think it’s just recognizing ‘mental’ just means our brains,” Lieber said. “[It’s] what we do and what we feel.”

A crucial way to do this is by opening conversations around mental health at home, especially between parents and their children, according to Lieber. Bringing up conversations surrounding depression and emotion should start around middle school, she said. 

However, it’s important for parents to remember to not dominate the conversation. Let teenagers and kids express their emotions freely without judgment — rather than offering solutions off-the-bat. 

It’s also important to find ways to increase social interaction during times of COVID-19 — whether that means connecting online or from safe distances. That way, the feelings of isolation can be overcome. 

“None of us are alone, even when we’re alone in our home. All of us are on this journey together.”

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, please call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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‘Hope is possible’: Expert gives advice during Suicide Prevention Week