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Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Suicide Prevention Month: “It’s OK to not be OK”

A guest blog by Lora Setter, LMCIT Public Safety Program Coordinator

September is National Suicide Prevention Month. This week — September 6-12 — is National Suicide Prevention Week, and September 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day. Suicide is a major public health challenge and, sadly, a disease that greatly impacts public safety.

A striking fact regarding suicide and public safety personnel is that fire and police professionals are more at risk from dying of suicide than from being killed in the line of duty.

Recently, I’ve heard two mental health professionals use the phrase, “It’s OK to not be OK” about how to normalize conversations around mental illness in public safety. One of the most important ideas in making it “OK to not to be OK” is for leaders to talk openly about their own mental health struggles.

To be a leader doesn’t necessarily mean having a formal title of leadership. Being a leader means having the courage to share your personal mental health journey in order to help normalize the conversation about mental health. 

In her book, Trauma Stewardship, Laura van Dernoot Lipsky writes: “When we acknowledge our own fear, we have the opportunity to deepen our compassion not only for ourselves but also for every being that has ever been afraid.” To admit to a mental illness takes courage, and those that are brave enough to share their personal struggles help provide “safety” to others to do the same.

Here are five action steps for helping someone in emotional pain (taken from the National Institute of Mental Health’s website):

  1. Ask. “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” It’s not an easy question, but studies show that asking at-risk individuals if they are suicidal does not increase suicides or suicidal thoughts.
  2. Keep them safe. Reducing a suicidal person’s access to highly lethal items or places is an important part of suicide prevention.
  3. Be there. Listen carefully and learn what the individual is thinking and feeling. Research suggests that acknowledging and talking about suicide may reduce — rather than increase — suicidal thoughts.
  4. Help them connect. Save the numbers for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline [1-800-273-TALK (8255)] and the Crisis Text Line (741741) in your phone.
  5. Stay connected. Staying in touch after a crisis, or after being discharged from care, can make a difference. Studies have shown the number of suicide deaths goes down when someone follows up with the at-risk person.

We know that public safety personnel may be at an increased risk of mental illness/PTSD due to the nature of their work. Therefore, now is the time for all leaders (both formal and informal) to help reduce the stigmas associated with mental illness and to create work environments where it’s truly OK to not be OK. 

Up next: More guest blogs

Be well!

Lora and Rob

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