Hi friends and community! We hope you are having a wonderful start to your September. As you may know, Suicide Prevention Week is September 10th-16th, and Suicide Prevention Day is September 10th. This is a topic we feel strongly toward, and we wanted to be a part of the discussion this week. To do that, I sat down with Dr. Mary Ekdahl. She is a child and adolescent psychologist at Arkansas Families First and a volunteer with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. She shared some very helpful tips and insights with me. We hope you find this helpful!

In Arkansas, suicide is the second leading cause of death of the age group 10-34, the first being traffic accidents. It is the tenth leading cause of death of individuals in the US. For every suicide, there are 25 attempts. Arkansas loses over 500 people to suicide per year. 90% of people who die by suicide have a diagnosable but untreated mental health condition. 

We started by talking about some of the warning signs that might be seen in someone who is having suicidal thoughts. Dr. Ekdahl explained the three factors to me: what they say, what they do, and how they’re feeling. These are all indicators of distress in a person. They may talk about suicide and that is a red flag that should be responded to. Some things they may say or feel is that they are a burden, they have no reason to live, or that their pain is unbearable and inescapable. Behaviorally, drug and alcohol use should be a warning sign. A person who is having suicidal thoughts may do these things in an attempt to feel better but it increases the risk of impulsivity and lowers problem-solving skills. If someone loses interest in things they previously enjoyed doing, isolates themselves, drastically changes their behavior, becomes more aggressive, experiences drastic changes in their sleep patterns, they make comments that suggest they are trying to say “good-bye” or they talk about not being here in the future, they giveaway meaningful possessions, or are looking online for a means of killing themselves, action should be taken. 

Dr. Ekdahl says there are some actions to take if you see signs that someone may be considering suicide. If someone is talking about or is engaging in dangerous behaviors, don’t leave them. Make sure they are monitored and get them to a mental health professional as soon as possible. Once any intense danger has passed, a mental health professional can construct a safety plan consisting of the person understanding triggers of suicidal thoughts so they and others know when they are at an increased risk. Remove means that a person could use to harm theirself. Separate guns and ammunition, and lock in a safe. If there is a persistent risk, consider talking to the person about abstaining from driving for the time being. Be sure medications are put away, as over the counter medications can be lethal in high doses. Help explore the things they do that help them to feel better. Identify someone they feel comfortable with and talk to them ahead of time to let them know what is needed. Talking about suicide will not place someone at higher risk. Not talking about it could.

Many know the importance of a support system in these situations, but I was curious about Dr. Ekdahl’s opinion and input on this. Some things she mentioned that are important are decreasing isolation by involving youth with significant adults and age-appropriate community programs, monitoring and communicating about media use, and making sure to have open communication about mental health. Some shows or other sources of media that focus on the issue of suicide are compelling to kids, but they may normalize suicide in a way that is unhealthy, suggesting that suicide is an inevitable outcome to such things as bullying or abuse. On a positive note, thanks to the Arkansas Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, schools in Arkansas all have access to the More Than Sad program, a suicide prevention tool for teens and for teachers. Parents should ask their school how they plan to implement a suicide prevention program in their child’s school. 

Dr. Ekdahl mentions an important point about the link between mental health issues and suicide prevention. It can make all the difference to get help early, as several treatment strategies have been known to be effective. Several therapies have shown promising results in studies with individuals who are at risk for suicide. These include specific forms of cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, and attachment-based family therapy. 

If you have lost a loved one and want to talk to others who have experienced loss, there is aid available to you. There are support groups and a survivor's support program in which an individual can meet and talk about resources (see AFSP.org for more information). You may benefit from personal therapy to help you with your grief. Know that it will take a long time to learn to live with your grief, but others are there to help you find your way. And remember, everyone is different in the ways that they handle grief. 

Want to get involved? Here are some ideas.

  • Support legislation and initiatives that improves mental health care benefits
  • The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is open to anyone who wants to volunteer
  • Start and help with school groups in your area
  • Support or participate in the Out of the Darkness Walk 
  • Attend the AFSP survivors support day in November
  • Good Mourning program at Arkansas Children’s Hospital helps children who are grieving
  • Camp Alex, for adolescents who have lost loved ones to suicide
  • Read More Her

Learn more about Dr. Mary Ekdahl and her services on our site.