September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, a time for mental health organizations, survivors, allies, and community members unite to promote suicide prevention awareness and spread this important message.
If you, or someone you know, are suicidal please call Crisis Services at 716-834-3131 or you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (toll-free) at 1-800-273-TALK.
During the pandemic, many people are struggling with mental health issues as they deal with physical distancing, stay-at-home orders, family and financial concerns. Yet, stigma prevents many from seeking help.
According to Jessica Pirro, CEO of Crisis Services, we have a responsibility to our community members to help them find safety, help, and hope. Many people struggle alone and at times this leads to a heightened crisis where thoughts of suicide can occur.
“We know that the fear of talking about suicide can become a barrier. This fear is because of stigma and how the person believes they will be received when sharing these thoughts with others,” Pirro said. “The more we talk about mental health being a priority and provide safe and compassionate spaces to do so, the more we reduce stigma and reinforce that seeking help is a strength.”
A study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that one in four young adults in the U.S. considered suicide during the pandemic.
In addition, the study found that 40 percent of American adults experienced mental challenges associated with COVID-19.
We all have experienced crisis moments in our lives. Some that are threatening our safety and security, others that medically threaten our health and others where the crisis quickly subsides and we see hope ahead. With COVID, we have no end date. This experience has been out of our control and that lack of safety causes fear, anxiety and can overwhelm us more than we can manage.
Pirro explains that Crisis Services has seen an increase in calls because for some, this is the first time this level of fear and anxiety has occurred and is now a norm in our daily living. To be in a perpetual heightened state of concern takes a toll on our mental health and wellbeing.
“I am glad to see services are being used and that our community members feel confident to reach out to our crisis first responders so they don’t have to suffer alone,” Pirro said. “This increase in service demand is just the beginning of this experience. This is a trauma to our community and it will take time to heal, recover our sense of safety, and build the confidence needed to continue our path of recovery from this pandemic.”
Crisis Services administers the Suicide Prevention Coalition of Erie County which works to prevent suicide and suicide attempts by increasing awareness, promoting resiliency and facilitating access to resources.
According to Celia Spacone, Ph.D., coordinator of the Coalition, middle-aged men account for two-thirds of all suicide deaths. Stigma is a significant factor, with men less likely to reach out for help if they are struggling with mental health issues.
Men tend to turn towards self-medication which puts them at risk. Other risks include impulsive behavior, more access to firearms, and lack of seeking ongoing mental health treatment.
There are several initiatives to encourage men to reach out and get help.
Conditions like depression, anxiety and substance use problems increase risk for suicide. That risk is greater when a firearm is present in the home.
A new partnership between the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and the National Shooting Sports Foundation, has implemented public education resources for firearms retailers, shooting ranges and the firearms-owning community about suicide prevention and firearms.
Local gun shops and law enforcement agencies will accept guns for temporary storage to remove them from homes or provide firearm locks. Locally, gun locks and prevention information is available at COVID testing sites for individuals who may be experiencing mental health issues related to the pandemic.
“Studies show that half of the people who attempted suicide made the decision to take action within ten minutes,” Spacone said. “ It is important that lethal means are not in the home.”
Be A Man
Earlier this year, Crisis Services launched the “Be A Man” campaign, which encourages men to tell their stories and talk openly about their mental health struggles.
Buffalo firefighter Daniel Mulovich and men from all walks of life share their stories in the public service commercial and on the Suicide Prevention Coalition website.
When launching the campaign Jessica Pirro CEO, Crisis Services, said “We want to reduce stigma, encourage people to reach out for help, but also share the stories of men who lived successfully with their mental health conditions, who have reached out and received the help that they needed.”
Community Awareness and Events
Suicide Prevention Coalition presents gatekeeper training for first responders, health care workers and other individuals who may be encounter individuals in crisis. This one-hour program addresses risk factors, warning signs and how to respond.
According to Spacone, there is a silver lining relating to the current health crisis. It has never been easier to access services as most mental health providers are offering telehealth so you can participate in counseling in your own home.
“During the current health crisis, we encourage individuals to get beyond the stigma and get help,” Spacone said.
On September 10, World Suicide Prevention Day, the Flag of Hope will be raised at the Rath Building and will travel to other locations in the community to spread hope and raise awareness. Buildings in Buffalo and Niagara Falls will be lit in yellow to raise awareness of suicide prevention.
The Out of the Darkness Buffalo Experience is a fundraising and awareness event to honor those lost to suicide, raise awareness and share hope. The event will be held on September 26 with walkers stopping at Canalside to pick up material and prizes and then completing the walk on their own.
“We all have a role in caring for each other. Being a champion to reduce stigma can help community members from reaching the critical crisis state and the ability to see hope through challenging times,” Pirro said.