Raising awareness on Suicide Prevention Month

Roxy Stienblock of the Plainsman

Have you ever noticed that after the darkest thunderstorm the sun comes out again?

The sun coming out is our HOPE.

The sun coming out tells us that no matter how dark and stormy it gets, the sun always comes out again.

It may not come out straight away, as sometimes it is dark and cloudy for a while and feels as it will never end, but it always manages to shine at the end.

September is World Suicide Prevention month, with Sept. 10, being World Suicide Prevention Day.  According to the South Dakota Suicide Prevention website, South Dakota is ranked 19th highest in suicides in the United States.

This year was my third year attending the Out of the Darkness Suicide Prevention Walk. Suicide, depression, anxiety, PTSD - they are all real; they need support. Over 160 individuals have taken their own life in South Dakota just last year!

The walk teaches me new and interesting things each year. I did some research and even thought about it myself. I have lost friends to suicide, I have family members who have attempted suicide, and depression runs in my own family.

Trauma and abuse as a child often factor into one’s mental health. You could be a child and walk in on your father threatening to hit your mother. You could see the swelling around her eye and the black and blue marks on her arm but not understand why and how. You see she never smiles or laughs anymore and constantly looks tired. You’re afraid to ask. You are just a child.

You could be a teenager, who is insecure and overweight, getting bullied in school, not knowing where to go or what to do. You talk to therapists but you don’t fully trust them; you don’t want them knowing your true feelings because you’re afraid to let anyone in. Instead, you just sit there and watch the minutes go by. You begin to have trust issues with everyone. You feel everyone is judging your every move. You begin isolating yourself. You would rather stay home than go hang out with friends.

You can be the most popular girl/boy in high school and everyone could be envious of you, but you don’t show what happens behind the curtain.
You can be an adult facing mental issues, losing your job, being in a loveless marriage, losing a child, or even being a part of a military squadron and coming back from a tour — you are haunted by the trauma and memories it brings up.

Anyone can feel alone, hopeless, depressed, thinking nothing is ever going to be the same or get any better.

Now we bring the Coronavirus into the picture. We see the elderly that are stuck in the nursing homes and assisted living centers that aren’t able to be with their loved ones, only hearing their voice over the phone; and, if they are lucky enough to have a window in their room, see their loved ones through the window. Some residents in hospitals are so sick they are unable to have their families with them.

Suicide has become very common in our community. Many individuals keep to themselves because they feel it’s too difficult to find people who understand what’s going on in their heads when they don’t even understand it themselves.

Depression, anxiety, panic attacks, or PTSD are not a choice. No one wishes to have dark days, sleepless nights, grumpy mornings, and this endless dark tunnel with no sign that it ever ends.

Many individuals who are battling a mental illness use sarcasm and jokes as a cover to hide their pain and sadness, and some are afraid to be happy because they feel that whenever they were happy in the past, something bad would always happen.

Before you can look out for others, you must first look out for yourself. If you’re not in the right headspace or you don’t think you’re the right person to have the conversation with the person, try to think of someone else in their support system who could talk to them.

Some warning signs to look out for are:
— Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself;
— Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose;
— Talking about being a burden to others; feeling trapped, or in unbearable pain;
— Increased use of alcohol or drugs; acting anxious, agitated and reckless; sleeping too little or too much; as well as losing interest in things you usually love and care about; isolating and displaying extreme mood swings.

If someone is showing any of these characteristics, trust your gut instinct and ask them if they are okay. By starting a conversation and commenting on the changes you have noticed, you could help that family member, friend, co-worker open up.

It’s not always easy to keep the conversation going when someone says they are not okay but it could change their life.
— Check up on them. Ask them how they are feeling, even it is daily. Every day is a new day and a new challenge for the individual.
— Ask individuals if they are feeling suicidal by listening, without judging. Let them know you care about them, and they are not alone.
— Empathize with them, You could say, “I can't imagine how painful this is for you, but I would like to try to understand.” Repeat their words back to them in your own words; this shows that you are listening. Repeating information can also make sure that you understood them properly.
— Reassure them that they will not feel this way forever.
— Encourage them on getting through the day, rather than focusing on the future.

There are lots of risk factors at play: genetic mental disorders, alcohol and substance abuse, hopelessness, appearance, history of trauma or abuse, a recent loss of a relationship, job, and even financial stress. Some Americans do not have the social support they avoid the stigma of asking for help.

Talk with a family member, friend, counselor, doctor, therapist, a teacher or educator you trust, a church leader, you can even find a support group.

The struggle is real and can last for a lifetime. Those who are feeling depressed need to recognize those feelings and, with assistance, find their way through the darkness into the light.
— Find ways to love yourself. Give yourself time to rest, notice when you’re pushing yourself too hard, walk away from relationships that hurt you, be okay with not being busy, know that you are still enough, and forgive yourself when you fall out of routine. Close your eyes and take a breath. Take a moment to collect yourself. Go outside, as much as you don’t want to leave your bed, just go. Sit or stand and breathe in the fresh air. Look at the stars or the clouds and focus on them. Try essential oils, many individuals feel they are a huge part of their coping skills. My personal favorites are lavender and vanilla.
— Be proud of yourself today if you got out of bed, ate a meal, cleaned your room, showered. Simple accomplishments deserve recognition because sometimes they can be big tasks no matter how small.
-- Create a safety plan. Having a safety plan in place during a time of emotional vulnerability or in crisis is one way to help manage your thoughts and feelings in a quick way to refer yourself to help. If you need to unfollow accounts that bring you down, delete apps that interfere with your emotional well being, do it!

Work on distraction techniques:
— Give yourself permission to have a lazy day. Forgive yourself for screwing up, recognize that just because someone is upset with you, it doesn’t mean you did something wrong.
— Talk about it. You will drown carrying the load and keeping to yourself.
— Work on ways to boost your self-love; try to cuddle a pet, put on woolly socks, drink hot chocolate, read a good book, try a weighted blanket, or even take a long shower or bubble bath. Sing, draw, paint, or even purchase a self-help book!

Take care of your physical health. In times of bad or negative stress or after a major life event, remember to pay attention to your body! Mental and physical health are deeply connected, and it is important to deal with any health issues that may be holding you back. Consider seeking a therapist, or try a new exercise regimen. Be sure to consult your physician when starting any new exercise regimen.

If you know of someone who has been taking suicidal actions or have tried to hurt themselves, help them, and if you feel you can’t call 911. If they are not hurt, have a friend or family member take them to a mental health care setting or emergency room. No one there will judge you. The nurses and doctors are there to keep everyone safe. We are all in this together!

Seek help if you or a friend or loved one feels alone. Remember, there is beauty in everything!!

Not all storms come to disrupt your life, some come to clear your path. This world is teaching you something; you can survive anything. This world is also helping you develop strength you never thought you had in you. You have the strength of love!

Love yourself.

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