A blog post from Active Minds for National Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month
Content warning: This blog post mentions mental illness and suicide.
In the United States, September is National Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month. This a particularly important topic on college campuses as suicide remains the second leading cause of death in young adults. We can use the month of September to spark awareness around this issue and keep what we learn about suicide with us for the rest of the year.
Active Minds is the leading nonprofit organization in mental health and a proud partner of Alpha Chi Omega. Therefore, we would like to speak directly to chapter members, advisors and the greater Alpha Chi Omega community about suicide and the importance of talking about mental health.
Signs of a Mental Illness
Although not all people living with a mental illness are suicidal, mental illness can be one indicator that suicidal ideation may be present. Here are some signs of mental illness to be aware of in yourself, a sister or others:
- Feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, depressed mood, poor self-esteem or guilt
- Withdrawal from friends, family and activities that were once enjoyable
- Changes in sleeping patterns like trouble falling asleep or waking up
- Feelings of anger or a craving for revenge
- Feeling tired constantly
- Regular crying
- Neglect of personal care such as poor hygiene
- Reckless/impulsive behaviors such as excessive substance use
- Persistent physical symptoms such as headaches, digestive problems or chronic pain that do not respond to routine treatment
Warning Signs of Suicide
The presence of a mental illness is just one risk factor for suicide. Beyond mental illnesses, there are several other warning signs specific to suicide. Most people who are suicidal show warning signs, but often, those close to them are unaware of the significance of these signals or are unsure of what to do about them. Here are some indicators to look out for:
- Threats to hurt oneself or talking about wanting to hurt oneself
- Talking/writing about suicide or death, when these actions are out of the ordinary for the person
- Obtaining or looking for ways to hurt oneself by seeking access to means of suicide
- Giving away prized possessions
- A sudden interest or disinterest in religion/afterlife
Beyond behavioral cues, there are key phrases that you may hear from someone who is thinking about suicide:
- “It’s just so hard to get out of bed lately.”
- “I just can’t deal with life right now.”
- “I just want to sleep and never wake up.”
- “I just want out.”
If you notice these signs in yourself or a sister, you should immediately call 800-273-8255 (TALK) or text “TALK” to 741-741 to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If appropriate, tell an advisor or trusted staff member. Go to an emergency room or mental health walk-in clinic. Make sure you are not alone until professional help arrives, and be sure that any firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt are removed from the environment.
Conversations about Mental Health
Now more than ever, people have been wanting to start conversations about mental health. However, once you notice warning signs of a mental health challenge, it can be difficult to know how to have a conversation about them.
We at Active Minds suggest using V-A-R, three simple steps: Validate, Appreciate, Refer.
- Validate Their Feelings
Let them know what they’re feeling is OK and that you believe them. Validation sounds like…
- “That makes sense.”
- “That sounds difficult.”
- “I’m sorry you are struggling right now. I am here for you.”
- Appreciate Their Courage
Speaking up can be a challenging step — let them know it’s a good one. Affirmation sounds like…
- “Thank you for sharing.”
- “It can be difficult to share sometimes. I’m glad you chose to speak up.”
- “It helps to know what you’re going through.”
- Refer Them to Skills and Support
Support them in figuring out what would be most helpful to them. The Refer step is most effective when formed as a question. Refer sounds like…
- “Do you think it would be helpful to talk to someone? I can stay with you while we call or text a hotline.”
- “Would you like me to go to the counseling center with you?”
- “It sounds like you want to talk about this more; would you like to have lunch with me tomorrow?”
*If suicide is mentioned during a V-A-R conversation, Refer must include going to a counseling center, contacting a medical professional, calling the 800-273-8255 (TALK) to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline or going to the nearest emergency room.
In closing, 67% of young adults first tell a friend they are feeling suicidal before telling anyone else, so it is important to know how to spot warning signs. More information about observing National Suicide Prevention Month with Active Minds can be found on our website. Consider using our resources with your chapter and campus community to help save lives this September.
Explore additional Alpha Chi Omega resources on our Mental Health Education webpage.