Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death among adults in the United States and is the second leading cause of death among individuals 10-24 years of age. Research has shown that 90% of individuals who attempt suicide or commit suicide have a diagnosable mental health disorder. The most common mental health disorders associated with suicide include schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, substance abuse disorder, personality disorders, anxiety disorders and depression. Individuals who attempt or commit suicide will show warning signs however loved ones often miss these warning signs. CPR/first aid courses and similar life-saving courses have been offered by the American Red Cross for decades and can truly save a life. Mental health first aid courses are now being offered across the country to help save lives by teaching individuals how to recognize warning signs, give reassurance and information to those in need, listen nonjudgmentally to those who are in a crisis, encourage appropriate professional help, and encourage self-help and other support strategies. You are more likely to encounter a person in an emotional crisis than someone having a heart attack. Would you know what to do?

According to Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, “Mental Health First Aid is an 8-hour public education program that introduces participants to risk factors and warning signs of mental illnesses, builds understanding of their impact, and overviews common supports. This nationally recognized training course uses role-playing and simulations to demonstrate how to offer initial help in a mental health crisis and connect persons to the appropriate professional, peer, social, and self-help care. The program also teaches the common risk factors and warning signs of specific mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, substance use, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, and schizophrenia”.

Mental Health first aid is popular among first responders, community workers, schoolteachers and employees at many corporate companies. This course is open to the general public and mental health professionals and advocates highly urge everyone to take this course in order to be better prepared to assist a loved one in a mental health crisis. The goal is to make mental health first aid as popular as CPR. Trainees are taught how to apply the 5-step action plan in a variety of situations such as helping someone through a panic attack, engaging with someone who may be suicidal, or assisting an individual who has overdosed. An important component of the Mental Health First Aid course is the opportunity to practice the intervention strategy rather than to just learn about the signs and symptoms.

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, a time to share resources and stories in an effort to shed light on this highly taboo and stigmatized topic. Suicide hotlines, mental health first aid courses, and community support groups are all great tools and resources to not only spread awareness about suicide prevention but are also recommended treatment tools. Suicide prevention should begin long before the individual is having suicidal thoughts formally known as suicidal ideations, as most of these individuals show signs and symptoms of mental health disorders before they become suicidal. Recognizing the signs and symptoms of these mental health disorders and seeking professional treatment for these disorders is the most effective way to prevent suicide.

Suicide warning signs:

  • Threats or comments about killing themselves, also known as suicidal ideation can begin with seemingly harmless thoughts like “I wish I wasn’t here” but can become more overt and dangerous
  • Increased alcohol and drug use
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Social withdrawal from friends, family and the community
  • Dramatic mood swings
  • Talking, writing or thinking about death
  • Impulsive or reckless behavior
  • Untreated mental health disorders
  • Giving away important, valuable items