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Suicide Risk On The Rise In The 'New Normal'


Six months of lockdowns and quarantines have some mental health officials worried about a rise in depression and suicides.

“Suicide is on the rise and it’s not just in adults,” said Jamie Thurman, the co-founder of Pensacola Survivors, a nonprofit whose mission is to provide suicide prevention and mental health awareness, education, and support to Pensacola and surrounding communities. “I’ve actually received a few calls over the past few weeks from parents and people just really concerned about how they’re going to deal with this because their child is depressed from being homeschooled or not being able to see their local provider for mental health.”

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness month and this year there is more attention being paid to people who may be at risk of hurting themselves.

“It’s not that we necessarily see more attempts, but the nature of the attempts that we have seen have been of a more serious nature,” said Carolyn Shearman, director of emergency services at the Lakeview Center in Pensacola.

She believes the uptick in serious attempts likely stems from the pandemic’s perfect storm of financial and emotional stress. And it can hit anyone, anytime.

“Even people who wouldn’t normally think of themselves as having typical symptoms of depression, if you find yourself thinking ‘I’m lazy’ or ‘I feel numb’ or things like ‘I hate myself. I’m so angry’ or just don’t care anymore, these things are all signs of depression that people might not necessarily think of," added Shearman. "Depression can be the ultimate illness. It will trick you into thinking that you don’t deserve treatment, that you should feel guilty about feeling lazy or about not accomplishing everything that you should accomplish. You know, you’re letting your family down, you don’t deserve the help. So, we just want to say that all a lie. That way that you feel now is not the way that you have to continue to feel.”

So just who are the people most at risk for suicide? Numbers and statistics don’t tell the whole story but there are some from the CDC that are important. Like for people between the ages of 10 and 35, suicide is the second-leading cause of death. Like there are two and half more suicides in the U.S. than homicides. Like 75% of the people who die from suicide are male. And the numbers are especially troubling when you look at veterans.

According to a report published by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs in 2016, which analyzed 55 million veterans' records from 1979 to 2014, the current analysis indicates that an average of 20 veterans die from suicide every day. It’s something that many veterans keep inside.

“There’s a stigma that comes with it. Either you’re not strong or you’re not brave if you are going to talk about your mental health and how you feel,” said Dawn Mucha-Johnson, the lead suicide prevention coordinator for the Gulf Coast Veterans Health Care System. She says the Veterans Administration’s current suicide prevention campaign is called “Be There.”

“The premise of ‘Be There’ is so simple. It is just to begin those conversations and let everyone know that it’s okay to talk about suicide, it’s okay to talk about our thoughts and our feelings and your emotions. Because we are human. Getting people comfortable with the conversation will then lead them to feel comfortable to call the crisis line or to seek assistance for themselves.”

And while every individual is just that, a unique individual, there are some signs that a friend or loved one may be contemplating suicide.

“So the signs to look for are a lot of the depressive symptoms: isolation, feeling hopeless or helpless, not feeling like you belong or like you’re a burden on people. Some of the more telling signs of suicide can be making preparations for your items and your belongings and your family (for) after you are deceased.”

Mucha-Johnson also says to pay attention to someone’s social media output.

“Pay attention to someone’s Facebook or Twitter or Instagram and see if they are posting things that are depressive or maybe a change in behavior that includes increased alcohol or drug use or change in friends. That might signal that something is going on.”

The National Suicide Hotline is 800-273-TALK. That’s 800-273-8255. Veterans can find help at that number or by calling the Veterans Crisis Line at 888-640-5443. And in our region, you can call the Lakeview Center’s Mobile Response Team at 866-517-7766.

Bob Barrett has been a radio broadcaster since the mid 1970s and has worked at stations from northern New York to south Florida and, oddly, has been able to make a living that way. He began work in public radio in 2001. Over the years he has produced nationally syndicated programs such as The Environment Show and The Health Show for Northeast Public Radio's National Productions.