IDAHO — National Suicide Prevention Week is coming up in the United States, encouraging everyone to help raise awareness on an often taboo topic.
From September 5 to September 11, the week-long campaign aims to help inform people about suicide prevention and warning signs of suicide. This year's campaign comes as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to have an impact on mental health across the board, including for youth in the US.
"Our youth are definitely struggling. I don't think that's surprising to anyone," says Fayth Dickenson, a Behavioral Health Manager with Regence BlueShield. "We do continue to see an increase in the clinical depression rates as well as an overall rise in depression and anxiety in our youth, and unfortunately, Idaho ranks fourth in the nation for having one of the highest prevalence of youth mental illness coupled with lower rates to access of care."
Dickenson says that means more than 60% of Idaho's youth in need are going untreated. Some of the lack of access can be linked to financial issues, geographic placement, the stigma of mental health treatment, and even general isolation or lack of social support.
With many schools starting the new year in person, students may be able to alleviate some of the previous feelings of isolation they had during the previous academic year. Dickenson says outside of isolation, there are a few other factors families can address for children and adults.
"One of it's the chronic stress that everyone is going through, adults and youth alike, so understanding that youth specifically are facing their own chronic stress whether that's their school, that's their family and relationships, all of those are just ongoing," explains Dickenson. "The more ongoing stresses someone has, it takes a physical strain as well, and that's why it's so important for parents, teachers, any adults to have those conversations about mental health and mental well-being with their children, your students, any youth you have in your life to start destigmatizing mental health and teaching them that it's ok to ask for support."
Suicide rates dropped in the US by about 5% from 2019 to 2020 but not all areas and demographics showed improvement. Despite the decrease in suicide deaths, it remains one of the top ten causes of death.
Dickenson says it's weeks like National Suicide Prevention Week that help open the door for difficult conversations that could ultimately save someone's life.
"Prevention really means ensuring that people know that there is help available to them, even if they're having thoughts of suicide, and reminding them that they're not alone. It's telling them that and educating them on that before they're in a crisis, and that's how we truly save lives."
Dickenson says all of that starts by talking to other teachers or other adults about suicide and ideation and even programming the Suicide Prevention Lifeline into family phones.
"It's those little things that happen before someone needs them that make a difference," she explains.
Nationally, data shows an increase in behavioral health treatment during 2020 and early 2021, an encouraging sign during a very difficult period.
"There are so many options out there whether that's in-person counseling or primary care providers offering a great resource. There is also an array of virtual and telehealth options that are becoming more and more available, even digital options as modules people can do on their own, in the privacy of their own home on their own time frame, and they're getting more and more useful, especially for youth," says Dickenson.
If you're thinking of seeking behavioral health treatment or looking for ways to encourage someone else, Dickenson suggests starting by seeing what options will meet the person where they are.
"Maybe they're looking for seeing a person they've set up with before, a primary care provider or returning to a therapist. Maybe they're looking for somebody new in one of the apps, like Talkspace or something similar, but always starting with a trusted healthcare professional is the best place to go," Dickenson says.
For ideas on where to go, Dickenson says take a closer look at your own health plan or reach out to your healthcare provider. The National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) also offers resources as well as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
If you or someone you know is experiencing a crisis, you can reach the Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline by calling (800)273-8255 or texting (208)398-4357.