Traumatic events causing mental illnesses to spike

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Suicide prevention emphasized this September

Every year in September, The World Health Organization (WHO) and the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) work to improve awareness about suicide. In 2016, President Barack Obama issued a proclamation designating September 10 as World Suicide Awareness Day.

We are all impacted by suicide, and in the United States an average of 123 people kill themselves daily. It is the second-leading cause of death for those ages 10-34; in 2017, there were over 47,000 suicides.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), suicide is defined as death caused by self-directed injurious behavior with intent to die as a result of the behavior. There are certain experiences that may increase the risk for suicide, and 2020 has been a very difficult and stressful year for many reasons.

The trauma associated with watching the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020 while he was suffocated by the police is an image that we will not soon forget. Feelings about police violence, social injustice and racism have all come to the forefront of everyone’s mind with this horrifying murder.

It is not surprising that a survey by the U.S. Census Bureau showed that the murder of George Floyd by the police had an adverse effect on mental health of Black Americans nationwide. There has been a spike in depression and anxiety disorders as well as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the Black community. And now we have the video of Jacob Black, a Black man being shot in the back by police.

These are just two lives out of many that were cut short due to a pandemic of racism. As we experience the ongoing trauma of racism, feelings of hopelessness and the belief that things will not get better emerge.
A traumatic event has been defined as exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence in the following ways:

  • Directly experiencing the traumatic event
  • Witnessing in person or as it occurred to others
  • Learning that the event occurred to a close family member, friend or others
  • Experiencing repeated or extreme exposure to aversive details of the traumatic event

For many, living with racism and trauma is a daily experience. According to Alisha Moreland-Capuia, executive director of Oregon Health & Science University’s Avel Gordly Center for Healing, “The emotional and psychological impact of racism means acutely, every day, being reminded that you are not enough, being reminded that you are not seen, being reminded that you are not valued, being reminded that you are not a citizen, being reminded that humanity is not something that applies to you.”

Traumatic life events have been associated with increased risk of depression and other psychiatric disorders, including suicide. Other risk factors for suicide include: a prior suicide attempt, substance abuse, family history of a mental health disorder, substance abuse disorder, violence or suicide, access to guns, incarceration, suicide by peers or media figures, and chronic medical conditions. The risk is higher for those between the ages of 10 and 34.

Many of our sources of support have diminished due to COVID-19. On March 11, 2020 the WHO declared the COVID-19 virus a global pandemic. Since that time, there have been additional stressors including unemployment, food insecurity, difficulty meeting financial obligations, increased social isolation, loss of religious and community connectedness, and increased fear, anxiety and depression. Racial disparities exist, and Blacks and Latinos have higher rates of COVID-19 infection. Communities of color often have more severe cases of COVID-19 and a higher risk of death from the virus.

During this tumultuous time we must begin the process of acknowledgement and acceptance of our own value. When you rely on the beliefs of others or society to determine your own perception of self, you are giving away your power. Do you see your own beauty and worthiness?

Thich Nhat Hanh, a Zen master, offers the following: “To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.”

Seek out those who can support you in your journey to enhance your relationship with yourself. Read inspiring stories from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcom X and others who have been instrumental in promoting love, self-actualization, and justice through their leadership.

Interventions

Less than 30% of those in the Black community seek mental health services. A resource for culturally competent services is listed below. If you believe someone is at imminent risk for suicide, do not leave them alone. It can also be helpful to remove the potential means of suicide.

If the person has a weapon, leave immediately and call 911. If the person is receiving mental health services, you can assist them in contacting their provider. There is also a mobile crisis team 24/7 where a mental health professional will do a risk assessment by phone. Resources for suicide prevention and education can be found below.

NorthPoint Health and Wellness Behavioral Health Clinic has diverse behavioral health providers for ages six and up: 612-543-2500.

The following resources are available 24/7:
National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Suicide prevention text line: text HOME to 741741
Hennepin County Crisis line: Call 612-596-1223 for adults ages 18 and up; call 612-348-2233 for children ages 17 and under.

State of MN: Call **CRISIS (274747) and you will be connected with your county crisis services.
For education and referral information, call the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) at 651-645-2948 or go to SAMHSA.gov.

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