Published on September 08, 2021

National Suicide Prevention Week puts spotlight on mental health

Every day about 130 Americans die by suicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s one person every 11 minutes. Dr. Steven Sutherland, a child and adolescent psychiatrist and the behavioral health division chair at Essentia Health, said it’s something that needs to be addressed head-on.

“This is something that impacts everyone, from all walks of life,” said Dr. Sutherland. “We need to keep breaking the stigma and talk to people around us, start the conversation, make sure our friends and family members know it’s OK to talk about it with anyone at any time. It might be hard to have that conversation, but it’s worth feeling awkward for a brief time if it helps reduce the risk of losing a loved one who is struggling.”

Suicide rates per 100,000 Americans had increased every year from 2005 to 2017 before a slight trend of declines since 2018. Regardless of whether rates are going up or down, Dr. Sutherland said, efforts to reduce suicide deaths need to be ongoing.

“Over the years, we’ve seen people open up more about their mental health,” he said. “That has been encouraged by high-profile athletes, actors, artists and more leading the charge of making mental health, depression and suicide OK to talk about. I think that has made more people feel comfortable telling their own stories and directly addressing their own mental health.” 

Dr. Sutherland adds there are key signs you can look for if you think someone in your life is struggling with mental health. Many of the signs may appear normal if they occur on an occasional hard day or series of days, but become more concerning if they persist for a period of two weeks or more. Those things include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • A person not thinking, talking or acting like themselves
  • Being distant or isolated for long periods of time
  • Talking about giving up or feeling like they aren’t enough
  • Talking about wanting to rejoin a deceased loved one
  • Getting rid of prized possessions
  • Losing interest in things they usually like
  • Displaying irritability or reacting negatively to things more often

Dr. Sutherland said the best thing you can do is start the conversation if you see someone displaying some of these signs.

“People need to know you are someone they can rely on, even if you don’t have much technical knowledge of mental health care,” he said. “Offer to be that resource for them, someone who they can talk to if they aren’t feeling like themselves. People who are experiencing a mental health crisis are often self-conscious about not wanting to burden people, so it’s important to be clear that you want to be someone to rely on.”

While friends and family members are often reliable resources for help, it’s also important to understand the need for professional assistance.

“Mental health and primary care clinicians are here to help people,” Dr. Sutherland said. “We want to be able to establish a relationship with patients, work on getting an accurate assessment of the situation and provide care at an appropriate level to the patient’s needs. That level is most commonly outpatient care, whether virtual or in-person. Just because a person is struggling with their mental health, and acknowledges sometimes having thoughts about suicide, doesn’t mean they have to stay overnight in a hospital.”

Essentia offers comprehensive mental health care from a robust team of behavioral health specialists:

  • Outpatient therapy and counseling
  • Psychiatry services
  • Partial hospitalization and intensive day programs
  • Inpatient care
  • Children’s mental health
  • Bereavement and grief support
  • Health psychology
  • Substance-use counseling

“Essentia’s virtual treatment options like telehealth and E-visits have expanded care opportunities as well,” Dr. Sutherland said. “These allow us to connect with our patients regardless of where they are. For many patients, this has eliminated transportation barriers, reduced time commitments needed for appointments and allows us to work around a patient’s schedule more easily.”

People can access the 24/7 National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-TALK (8255) or by texting MN to 741741. Both services are free and provide immediate help. For more resources, visit the National Institute of Mental Health’s website. 

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