Psychotherapist shares steps in journey to healing during Suicide Prevention Awareness Month

MADISON, Wis. — If you only read one paragraph in this story, let it be this:

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. 988 is the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. If you or someone you know needs some support, call this number now. There are trained caring people on the other end who will help you. Mental health should NEVER be minimized.

There, I gave my opinion, but I’m confident there isn’t anyone who would disagree considering these 2020 statistics from the CDC:

  • Suicide is the 12th leading cause of death in the United States;
  • In 2020, there were well over a million suicide attempts; and
  • More than 45,000 of those attempts were successful.

However, 93% of adults believe suicide can be prevented, according to a study commissioned by the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, the Education Development Center and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

To me, that means there is hope.

Jennie McCann is a psychotherapist and Director of Clinical Services for Family Service Madison.

She says there is a crisis and people of all ages are struggling. In fact, her clinic and many others have waitlists because the need is great.

“There’s a piece of it that the stigma is going down, and so more people are talking about it and more people are asking for help,” says McCann.

Finally, the STIGMA is fading!

So let’s get onto the healing.

It’s a process.

It’s not easy and yes, it can be messy.

But you’ve got to put in the work to get out of where you are and what you are feeling.

Talk about it

McCann attended a recent training on assessing suicide and she shares this: “They talked about when you’re in that acute moment or a timeframe where you’re really thinking about if you have a plan to hurt yourself, that if that person can talk to somebody and talk it through — usually about 20 minutes to a half an hour — they can get through that acute part. Then it decreases the chance that they will potentially attempt something that evening. And that doesn’t mean the danger goes away, but it means that it subsides for a little bit, calm(s) things down so that, again, you can get back to clear thinking.”

She advises those in crisis to reach out to suicide hotlines (988), tell someone they trust they need support, and for acute levels of stress, go to the emergency department of the closest hospital.

“When somebody trusts somebody to say, ‘You know, I will allow you in to my pain and will you walk alongside me?’ It’s a huge honor,” says McCann.

If you can’t get an appointment, get on the waitlist.

“I would suggest, even if it sounds like the waitlist is long, still get on the waitlist, ” McCann said. She says time will go faster than you think. People do drop off and others move up, speeding up the wait time.

What to look for

Here are a few other warning signs of suicide:

  • Increased alcohol and drug use
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Withdrawal from friends, family and community
  • Dramatic mood swings
  • Impulsive or reckless behavior

A complete list can be found here.

Helping your children

McCann says children and teens who are struggling typically reach out to friends first, but parents and caregivers shouldn’t discount the effect they can have.

“There’s been research in the past, in particular related to children, that you could have the best treatment models and the best therapy and the best medicine, and if a child’s been through trauma, the thing that is going to impact their healing the most is a caring, believing adult that is going to try to keep them safe from that point forward. That’s the biggest impact,” she said.

Say “I love you”

Those words are vital to everyone, and McCann says it’s something she says teenagers need to hear.

“Even if they roll their eyes and don’t take it personal, they need to hear it,” she said, “and they will be listening.”

The bottom line: Be there. Show up. You don’t always have to solve the problem, but be available and be ready to listen. And know that there’s always someone available to help you.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues or considering suicide, there are resources available to help. Calling 988 nationwide will connect you to the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. In Dane County, Journey Mental Health Center has a 24/7 suicide prevention hotline at 608-280-2600.