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September is Suicide Awareness Month: Here’s how to spot signs of danger- Melissa Baker

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  • Written By: Melissa Baker

In 2019, more Arizonans died by suicide than motor vehicle accidents and homicides combined. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it was the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S.

This sobering statistic highlights an issue that has been growing since before the onset of the pandemic, which has only worsened feelings of isolation and hopelessness.

Many of us are dealing with added stress from the pandemic, and some may find it especially hard to cope emotionally with back to school, finances, unemployment and loneliness. These continual stressors can become crippling without receiving the proper care.

One way that we can look out for each other during these trying times is to be aware of any changes in those around us. Once you know what signs to look for, it can be easier for you to approach them and find help.

If you notice shifts in the behavior of your friends or loved ones, it could mean there is a problem. If you believe somebody is thinking about ending their life, monitor any negative changes in their emotions, words and behaviors.

Other than depression and lack of interest, monitor how they react in minor situations. Watch for anger, irritability and anxiety. You may also observe major mood swings, or other negative emotions like shame and guilt.

If a person is contemplating suicide, they may verbalize the negative feelings. These comments can be a lot more nuanced than directly saying they want to kill themselves. Listen for comments that include feeling like a burden to others, or having no purpose in life, or not wanting to exist. This could include, “I wish I could just disappear” or “I don’t want to be here anymore.”

In addition to the words that they say, pay attention to their physical appearance and behaviors. Has your loved one stopped brushing their teeth and hair? Are they not eating or overeating? When somebody stops taking care of their personal hygiene, it could be as indication of a mental health issue.

Those who contemplate suicide may also isolate themselves from family and friends and begin displaying riskier behavior, such as driving under the influence or increased use of drugs and alcohol. Some may give away possessions or read about suicide.

If you notice any of these signs, ask how they are doing and if they are thinking about killing themselves. If they are, there are many resources for support. Sometimes, extra time and attention from friends and loved ones may help.

Connecting them to local resources may also address practical stressors, like rent, finances or social connection.

If the emotions, thoughts and behaviors continue, you can offer the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You can also connect them to location professionals who can provide counseling and other care.

Melissa Baker is director of integrated health at the JFCS Glendale Healthcare Center. Learn more at: