Aug 12, 2014 1:00 AM

Author: Libby Mitchell

The death of actor and comedian Robin Williams is bringing national attention to a topic most people do not like to talk about: suicide. But despite the fact that the subject is seen as taboo, that doesn’t stop close to 30,000 Americans from taking their own lives every year.

Every one of those deaths is preventable, according to Barry Rose, the Manager of Crisis Services at the University of Utah Neuropsychiatric Institute (UNI), if people are willing to face the problem head on. “As a community we need to be talking about mental health issues as we talk about other medical conditions,” he says, “These are brain diseases like coronary disease or diabetes.  If we really want to begin impacting the rate of suicide in our community we must decrease the stigma attached.”

If you know someone you think may be considering taking their own life, you need to push them to get help, and support them while doing so. “Talk with them openly about your concerns, ask directly if they are thinking about self-harm, offer unconditional support and empathy, do not try to ‘solve their problem’ or ‘give advice’,” says Rose, “they are desperate and don't feel they can talk about it because of the stigma and worry about how they will be judged or treated.” In most cases someone knew about previous threats or attempts, but did not take proper action. “All threats should be taken seriously,” says Rose.

What if you aren’t sure if someone is suicidal? Look for certain signs. “Feeling overwhelmed, unable to cope and feeling hopeless to change or overcome these problems,” says Rose, adding, “Changes in personality, mood swings, substance abuse, high risk behaviors, suicidal thoughts, giving away belongings.” Also, never assume someone is “not the type.” “Anyone can be at risk, regardless of age, gender, economic or social status,” says Rose.

“People need time and support to regain their balance and hope for the future,” says Rose, ”There are many groups and organizations that can help.” The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has a national suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-TALK. UNI also has a crisis line that is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-801-587-3000. Rose adds, “We also offer face to face support through our mobile outreach teams or in person assessment and crisis support in our receiving center and wellness recovery center. “

Libby Mitchell

Libby Mitchell is the Social Media Co-ordinator for University of Utah Health Care. Follow her on Twitter @UUHCLibby.

suicide mental illness

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