Prevention Corner: Preventing Stigma and Suicide Through Mental Health Awareness
While fall can be a very exciting time of year for kids going back to school, freshmen just starting college, and gatherings with loved ones for the numerous holidays throughout the season, it inevitably brings about change, sometimes life-altering change, which can be very unsettling for many individuals. For some, this time of year means returning to an environment where personal safety is a concern due to bullying, or becoming familiarized with a new environment away from home proves challenging, or perhaps making it through the holiday season with or without loved ones becomes more difficult than expected. Regardless of the different types of obstacles people encounter during this season, many people will also experience the unwelcome feelings of anxiety, depression, and despair as a result of these struggles. While not everyone who experiences these feelings will ultimately seek mental health services for a variety of reasons, unfortunately, these feelings, especially when left untreated, will result in suicidal ideation and attempts for many individuals. Some of the risk factors associated with suicidal ideation and attempts include stressful life events, history of substance use, history of mental illness, and stigma surrounding mental illness and help-seeking behaviors (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2017). Despite the many treatment routes individuals can choose to alleviate the thoughts and feelings associated with suicide, if people feel stigmatized for seeking mental health services, treatment will likely be avoided, or discontinued, and issues may continue to worsen until it is too late. One way to diminish the harmful and deadly effects of stigma surrounding mental health issues is to better educate the public by engaging in more open discussions about mental health, and also by challenging media interpretations of individuals suffering from mental illness (Corrigan, 2004). There are many successful organizations working around the world to fight mental health stigma, particularly the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) in the United States (Rüsch, Angermeyer, & Corrigan, 2005). NAMI provides a wide range of services relating to mental health, including educational classes and support groups for individuals with mental health needs and for families of individuals with mental illness, as well as presentations focusing on promoting mental health awareness (NAMI, 2017). Recent research has noted the positive impact this organization has had on mental health advocacy efforts (Fitzpatrick, 2017).
While efforts to promote mental health awareness and decrease the stigma associated with mental health issues, including suicide, is important for everyone across all age groups, prevention efforts are particularly important for individuals between the ages of 15 and 34 since suicide rates are one of the leading causes of death during this time (CDC, 2015). This is understandable since this wide range of time encompasses extensive changes, such as the social and emotional changes related to adolescent development and the onset of mental health issues (Kessler, Berglund, Demler, Jin, & Merikangas, 2005). In the following issue of this column, I will invite individuals who have experience working in prevention efforts targeting areas associated with stigma and suicide with individuals in this age range, such as school climate and bullying, to share their experiences.
If you or someone you know is experiencing thoughts of suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015). 10 leading causes of death, United States. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Retrieved from https://webappa.cdc.gov/cgi-bin/broker.exe
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017). Preventing suicide. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Division of Violence Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/features/preventingsuicide/index.html
Corrigan, P. (2004). How stigma interferes with mental health care. American Psychologist, 59(7), 614-625.
Fitzpatrick, J. J. (2017). Psychiatric mental health nurses and family caregivers: Creating synergy. Archives of Psychiatric Nursing, 31(5), 431.
Kessler, R. C., Berglund, P., Demler, O., Jin, R., & Merikangas, K. R. (2005). Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62, 593-602.
National Alliance on Mental Illness. (2017). NAMI programs. Retrieved from https://www.nami.org/Find-Support/NAMI-Programs.
Rüsch, N., Angermeyer, M. C., & Corrigan, P. W. (2005). Mental illness stigma: Concepts, consequences, and initiatives to reduce stigma. European Psychiatry, 20(8), 529-539.