BIRMINGHAM, Alabama (WBRC) – Suicide is something no one wants to talk about, but mental health experts say it’s a critical conversation to start. The suicide rate in Alabama is higher than the national average. It’s such a widespread problem that the CDC says suicide is the second leading cause of death among people aged 10 to 34.
“There are twice as many suicides in this state, and really in all of the states of the United States, than there are homicides,” said Richard Shelton, MD, psychiatrist, professor and researcher at the ‘UAB. “So you can think of every time you hear of someone being killed, there are two people who died at that time, by suicide. It’s hidden in the community, because we really doesn’t talk about it enough.
No one is immune to mental health challenges, especially in the past 18 months of isolation and uncertainty. Shelton says even those who have been stable for the long term struggle.
“Other people that we have treated in the past who were doing quite well, we found that gradually, during this period, we saw more and more people sink into periods of depression or anxiety. severe, ”said Dr. Shelton explained.
Shelton believes this is in part due to the isolation.
“Isolation is probably the deadliest thing,” Shelton added. “I think for the situation it is fatal for two reasons: it will definitely increase the likelihood of someone making a suicide attempt, but the decrease in social interactions means that others will not recognize it, others will not. not see what happened to you. This social isolation really goes both ways. “
Based on Shelton’s training and clinical experience, he believes that lack of socialization has the greatest impact on adolescents.
“I am convinced that we are going to see a pretty big increase in the suicide rate, especially among teenagers,” he explained. “If you think about it, it’s almost a perfect storm. You have the teenage years, which is tough enough like that, and then you have the stress of the pandemic, of family members who are sick, who are losing family members. “
Shelton encourages safe social interactions for teens and adults, while wearing masks and respecting social distancing. He even encourages online dating with his friends and family.
“One of the things I encourage patients to do is form online communities and use Zoom or Skype or a service like that to connect with people regularly,” he said. declared. “You can dine with friends sitting at your own table, them sitting at their table and having a computer in front of you. I know, in fact, quite a number of people who host game nights, online, so they just, they have that as a way of interacting with other people so that they don’t feel so isolated. socially.
Experts say the best way to stand up for those in pain is to recognize the signs. Depression is a key factor in suicide.
“If a person starts to withdraw and isolate themselves, that’s kind of a key indicator that they may become depressed,” Shelton acknowledged. “Number two is having trouble sleeping. Even more important factors that increase the likelihood of suicide are sleep problems associated with depression.
If you are concerned that someone is considering self-harm, ask them directly.
“Research has shown very clearly that asking this question does not increase the risk of suicide, again people are very often honest about things,” Shelton said. “Talking about it clearly reduces the likelihood of this happening. “
Help connect those who are struggling with professional help. If resources are not immediately available, Shelton encourages everyone to contact their GP or a hotline.
“The good news is, the treatment is generally effective and generally works to help people recover and get rid of these thoughts,” he explained.
Shelton says the most critical aspect of suicide prevention is securing guns. In fact, owning a firearm increases the likelihood that a person in the home will use it for self-harm.
“It introduces the lag, the delay that people need to step back, take a moment, think, breathe and maybe ask for help. Reducing access to guns is probably the most important thing we can do in our homes, ”Shelton added.
WHERE TO TURN
The state of Alabama ranks last in the country for the availability of mental health services. UAB and other providers are working to expand services and use telehealth to reach rural communities where suicide is most common. Hotlines and mental health organizations can offer advice and connect callers with services in their area.
- National lifeline for suicide prevention
- Crisis text line
- Crisis line for veterans
- 1-800-273-8255, press 1
- send an SMS to 838255
- Birmingham Crisis Center
- Suicide Prevention Resource Center
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