The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic on March 11, and the nation began marshaling its resources to obtain the essential personal protective equipment, treatments and social distancing campaigns to save people's lives. As of Sept. 9, at least 3,380 people have died from the COVID-19 in Indiana.
However, an unintended consequence developed with social distancing, business closings and stay-at-home orders needed to save people's lives – the increase of hopelessness and suicidal ideation among some of our community members.
Since March, Indiana National Suicide Prevention Lifeline crisis call centers have seen an increase in their call volume and the new Be Well Indiana's Crisis Helpline has fielded 1,539 calls.
Thankfully, Allen County has not seen an increase in suicide deaths.
As a community, we need to ensure we are doing all we can to make sure the increase in distress during the pandemic doesn't turn into increased suicides.
September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and the good news is that we can all play a role in preventing suicide. While there is no similar outpouring of legislative support and funds for the public health issue of suicide prevention as there has been for the pandemic, there are some basic things we all can do to promote hope and well-being.
The Indiana Suicide Prevention Network recommends the following strategies to prevent suicide:
Take part in conversations and awareness activities about mental health and suicide prevention.
We all have mental health, just like physical health. Yet we continue to stigmatize individuals and families who express and/or struggle with mental health challenges. Individuals suffering from these conditions are afraid to talk about their experience or seek help for fear they will lose their jobs, friends or loved ones.
Connecting with one another, albeit virtually in our current environment, is important to normalize these conversations and combat the isolation and despair that can lead to suicidal ideation.
Here are a few good sources to help promote this kind of connection and awareness:
• Seize the Awkward campaign: seizetheawkward.org
• National Alliance on Mental Illness Family to Family: nami.org/Support-Education/Mental-Health-Education/NAMI-Family-to-Family
• Sources of Strength, Home-based Resources: sourcesofstrength.org/wp-content/uploads/Resources-for-practicing-Strength-at-home-copy-1.pdf
• Crisis Text Line: text IN to 741741
If someone you know is struggling, ask directly whether they are having thoughts of suicide.
Asking someone does not plant the idea in that person's mind. It communicates that you care and are open to listening to the hard stuff. It also increases hope by helping to lower pain, increase connectedness and lower suicide risk.
Here are a few good resources to help you ask about suicidal ideation thoughts:
• The Columbia - Suicide Severity Rating Scale (C-SSRS): cssrs.columbia.edu/the-columbia-scale-c-ssrs/risk-identification/ (training on how to use it: stopsuicidenow.org/columbia-suicide-severity-rating-scale-screener-c-ssrs/)
• National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, Get Help webpage: suicidepreventionlifeline.org/help-someone-else/
• Local behavioral health units: (Parkview Behavioral Health: (260) 373-7500, and St. Joseph Behavioral Health: (260) 425-3606
• Finding Hope: A Toolkit for Suicide Prevention: stopsuicidenow.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Finding-Hope-A-Toolkit-for-Suicide-Prevention.pdf
We should take it upon ourselves and the organizations we are affiliated with to learn more about suicide prevention. Evidence-based training has shown to increase knowledge and skills to prevent suicide. Training can take suicide prevention from a goal to an action.
Here are a few examples of evidenced-based trainings available locally:
• Question, Persuade Refer: qprinstitute.com/
• LivingWorks: livingworks.net/
• From the voice of lived experience: “Suicide prevention is isolation and loneliness prevention,” Silouan Green, author, speaker and Hoosier
To mark Suicide Prevention Week, the Indiana Suicide Prevention Network would like to challenge you to reduce isolation and loneliness by doing the following:
• Approach five people who look alone and start a conversation.
• Reach out to three people you know have struggled but you haven't kept in touch with.
• Be vulnerable with your own issues to two other people who don't know those issues.
Everyone can play a part in reducing suicide risk and deaths. Begin conversations with those who are struggling, use the above resources to build your own confidence in asking about suicide, and connect those you are helping to available resources such as BeWellIndiana.org and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255 (TALK)) or the Crisis Text Line (text IN to 741741).
Suicide is preventable and help is available. Join the network in its next free webi-nar, “Suicide Prevention is Everyone's Business: Changing American's Soul on Suicide,” at bit.ly/ISPN9-17
Colleen Carpenter is a co-facilitator of Stop Suicide Northeast Indiana (stopsuicidenow.org) and a board member of the Indiana Suicide Prevention Network.