Campaign encourages people to speak directly about suicide prevention

Photo by Deb Gau Dr. William Del Monte said being able to ask if a person is thinking about suicide is an important first step toward getting help.

MARSHALL — For many people, suicide might be an uncomfortable topic to discuss. But talking about it could help make a life-saving difference, Avera Marshall behavioral health staff said.

September is Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month, and the Avera health system launched a campaign encouraging people to “Ask the Question” when someone is showing signs of thinking about suicide.

“The first step is getting awareness, and then getting them to the appropriate person that can help,” said Dr. William Del Monte, a psychiatrist with Avera Medical Group.

Asking if a person is thinking about suicide is a crucial part of that first step, said Del Monte and Denae Winter, assistant chief nursing officer and director of inpatient services at Avera Marshall Behavioral Health.

“I think we’re going to find we’re able to help more people by asking the question directly,” Winter said.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control, suicide is the second leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 34. It’s also the eighth leading cause of death in Minnesota. The number of suicide deaths in the state increased between 2020 and 2021, Winter said.

“I think we’ve all seen the changes that happened during COVID and post-COVID,” Winter said.

During the pandemic, many people didn’t have access to their normal sources of support, Del Monte said. In addition to social isolation during the pandemic, life changes and economic stress have all had an impact on Minnesotans’ mental health.

However, there are resources that can help when a person is showing signs of thinking about suicide. That’s one reason why asking the question is important, Del Monte said.

“We believe it is a preventable cause of death,” he said.

Winter said asking directly about suicide does not plant the idea in a person’s mind. In fact, being able to have an honest conversation can come as a relief, she said.

“Most people, if they’re thinking about it, it does relieve the pressure of, ‘How am I going to bring this up and bridge this topic with somebody?'” Winter said. “If we can be comfortable, and if people in our community can be comfortable asking that question if we see somebody struggling, I think we’re going to be able to help more people that way.”

As part of the “Ask the Question” campaign, Avera is encouraging people to speak up and get help if they see signs that someone might attempt suicide. Warning signs can include a person expressing hopelessness or a feeling of being trapped, losing interest in things they used to enjoy, changes in behavior, or increased use of alcohol or drugs.

There are resources available for people who might be thinking about suicide. People can call or text 988 for the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline for immediate help, or go to their local emergency department. They can also call Avera Behavioral Health’s urgent care number, at 800-691-4336, to help find behavioral health services that fit their needs.

If a person is not in crisis, but still looking for information on behavioral health services, they can also call Avera Behavioral Health Navigation at 605-322-5142. Winter said Behavioral Health Navigation can help people find out where to go to get the services they need.

The “Ask the Question” campaign, which was funded by donors to the Avera Foundation, is one way area health care providers have been trying to raise awareness and help prevent suicide. Winter said the campaign has focused on different ways to get the message out, whether that means advertising in different markets or using TikTok and social media to reach teens.

More information, including tip sheets on how to “Ask the Question” and suicide prevention information, is available online at Avera’s website. People can learn more at www.avera.org/AskTheQuestion.


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