Webinar Sheds Light on Mental Health

Woman suffering from depression | Image by DC Studio/Freepik

With May marking Mental Health Awareness Month, a webinar was held Wednesday to raise awareness surrounding mental health and suicide.

The Texas Health Human Services May 29 webinar enabled attendees to learn more about suicide and the safe language surrounding it, as well as risk factors and warning signs. It also explained the steps to take in guiding someone with suicidal ideation, the impact that stress has on one’s body and brain, and the importance of self-care.

Language alone can be stigmatizing, according to Samm Zachary, who is on the suicide and prevention policies team at Texas Health and Human Services.

Examples of unsafe language include “committed suicide,” “failed attempt,” and “successful suicide.”

“We want to make sure we’re using neutral language that doesn’t further contribute to the stigma that we already have around suicide,” Zachary said.

The latest data from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention found that in the State of Texas in 2021, on average, there were 11 suicides committed per day.

The data found that suicide was the 11th leading cause of death in Texas. Alarmingly, it was found to be the second leading cause of death for those ages 10 to 24, followed by the third leading cause for those ages 25 to 34. There were 4,193 deaths by suicide within the state per 100,000.

One standout statistic shared was that over two times as many people died by suicide than in alcohol-related motor vehicle accidents.

“We like to share this because Texas is tough on drunk driving and has tackled that issue as a public health approach with lots of campaigns, and we’re hoping that we can do the same thing with suicide in the future,” Zachary noted.

Zachary explained that several risk factors make people more susceptible to suicide, including biological and psychological factors and history.

“A study on people who have lost a loved one shows that they are two to 10 times more likely to die by suicide,” Zachary said. “The closer the relationship, the higher the likelihood.”

She noted that alcohol intoxication is present in 30 to 40% of suicide attempts.

Some warning signs can be picked up through conversation, behavior, and mood. For example, sometimes, a person expresses that he feels like he is a burden to others, has no reason to live, feels worthless, or wants the pain to stop.

Some behaviors can include an increase in the use of substances, withdrawal, acting recklessly, sleeping too much or too little, giving away possessions, and a decrease in self-care.

Some mood warning signs can include dramatic changes, guilt, depression, anxiety, irritability, anger, and feeling empty or hopeless.

“Warning signs can sometimes be subtle, so it’s important to know these signs even if there only is a slight change in a person,” Zachary noted.

Protective factors include connectedness, social support, access to mental health treatment, healthy coping skills, cultural and religious beliefs, a sense of hope and purpose, and a sense of responsibility, such as for a partner, child, or spouse.

“The most common myth surrounding suicide is that talking about it will lead to and encourage suicide,” Zachary said. “The opposite is actually true.”

A study published in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found that 48% of those who attempt suicide thought about it for less than 10 minutes before their attempt.

Zachary shared that creating self-care layers can help prevent suicide. Self-care varies by person and can be simple, such as exercising, hanging out with friends, and doing what makes a person happy.

“Self-care is not a luxury. It’s a necessity,” Holly Fullmer, trauma-informed policy and training specialist for Texas Health and Human Services, noted. “It’s important to have coping skills. Four things you want to incorporate on a regular basis include finding something that is enjoyable for you, something that makes us feel competent and effective, focusing on mindfulness, being present in the moment, and having gratitude.”

Fullmer also explained that limiting stress is important as it can lead to suicide. Stress can negatively impact one’s body and brain, another reason to focus on caring for oneself.

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, call or text the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 or text “TX” to 741741 for support.

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