June 21st is International Day of Yoga! Did you know that yoga has both physical and mental health benefits? Several studies have found that yoga…
- Relieves stress
- Calms and centers your nervous system
- Helps with concentration
- Improves mood and functioning
And much more! You can read more in a publication from Harvard Medical School.
Now get out there and practice your Tree Pose!
Depressive disorders are extremely common — 15.7 million American adults experienced a major depressive episode in 2014. It’s much more than simply feeling sad, it’s a medical condition with physical symptoms. Check out the infographic by Mental Health America to learn more as we continue our recognition of Mental Health Month, and be sure to visit their website for lots of great materials to help you spread the word to your community.
Mental Health Professionals concerned that automated self-help programs will put them out of business can take some comfort in a new study — it found that when it comes to mental health care for depression, computerized self-help simulators offered no additional benefits over traditional therapies one might receive from their primary care physician. In fact, the study found that nearly 25% of participants dropped out within four months and failed to engage with the self-help program.
Dr. Christopher Dowrick of the University of Liverpool wrote an accompanying editorial in which he commented, “It’s an important, cautionary note that we shouldn’t get too carried away with the idea that a computer system can replace doctors and therapists . . . We do still need the human touch or the human interaction, particularly when people are depressed.”
Such simulators have been around for awhile and have increased in popularity as access to technology increases and the stigma surrounding mental health treatment continues. These programs are run purely on artificial intelligence, that is to say there is no human being at the other end giving their feedback or any empathetic response.
So, while it seems looking online for help is a growing trend, taking the human element out of that interaction may not be the best way to go. This is good news, however, for helplines, counselors, and others looking to offer live chat capabilities to their service. Clearly people want to take advantage of the anonymity, and desire a less-threatening way of asking for help, but connecting with a human being on the other end of the online conversation is an all-important element of that process.
NPR published an article about this study which you can read here, or read the study itself here.
I distinctly remember the first time I learned the truth about a common myth related to suicide. It was nearly 14 years ago, and I was sitting with my fellow would-be hotline volunteers in our training class, ready to tackle the lesson we were all most nervous about: Suicide. We filled out a pre-test, designed to gauge our base knowledge about the topic, and see what sorts of preconceptions we were bringing with us to our volunteer experience. The true or false quiz seemed simple enough to me at the time, a college junior who had been through her share of advanced psychology classes and was about a year from graduation, in spite of those classes having provided very little mention of suicide. I arrived at one that gave me pause. “True or False: The suicide rate increases around the holidays.”
I was a little stumped. “Gosh…I feel like I hear a lot about suicide during the holiday season,” I thought to myself. “And I know I’ve heard that statistic…somewhere. And hey, what time of year is more stressful for people than that whole period between Thanksgiving and the New Year? It makes sense. True.” My pencil checked the box.
Well (spoiler alert!) I was wrong. We all listened intently to the correct answers and found that much of what we thought was true about suicide was, in fact, false. And I remember feeling almost angry about this, like why was this whole topic so taboo, so secretive, that complete fallacies could be out there in the universe parading around as truths all these years. But that particular myth about the holidays was really stuck in my craw.
So stuck, in fact, that it’s become a running joke between me and my husband because he’s been witness to my missionary-like commitment to setting the record straight. I yell at the TV when I see a show reinforcing the myth. We’d be at a party and someone would find out where I worked and inevitably I’d get lots of questions about suicide, mental health, and other topics. Without a doubt someone would ask if it’s true, or make a comment about how more suicides happen around the holidays. My eyes would widen (another potential convert to help spread my gospel of truth!) as I got to explain (my husband might prefer the term “lecture”) that this was false, and that December can actually be a month where there are fewer suicides, but that springtime does seem to be a time where we lose more people to suicide than other times of year.
In addition to the fact that falsehoods in general just bug me, something about this one would set me over the edge, and I think it’s because I feel it’s actually a bit dangerous to have myths such as this one circulating.
Look, I’m glad that there are articles about suicide this time of year, any time of year for that matter, but too many of them use the myth as a means to drive traffic to their site or increase readership without clearly and categorically setting the record straight that there’s really no relationship between suicide and the holiday season. They also tend to leave out important information about prevention, according to a report by the Annenberg Public Policy Center.
What ends up happening is that people continue to feel there is a relationship (look at all these articles that come out about suicide in December, it must be true!) and I think, from that, two things happen.
First, attention to the topic of suicide is heightened at a time of year when incidents are typically at their lowest. Again, awareness is a good thing anytime, but where are all these articles during the rest of the year, particularly in springtime through summer when the incidents of suicide actually do increase? We end up with an abundance of articles and material when the myth creates a demand for content yet incidents are at their lowest, and a lack of attention when they’re at their highest in the spring and the public’s heightened awareness and knowledge of prevention methods could especially be put to good use.
Second, I think the perpetration of this myth promotes a sort of romanticism of, or glamorizes the idea of a holiday suicide. While you cannot put the thought of suicide in someone’s head by simply talking about it (another myth we frequently try to squash), irresponsible reporting of suicide in the media can contribute to the contagion phenomenon, which is very real. This idea that the holidays are a “good” time or a normal time to complete one’s suicide plan, or that a person “should” feel extra depressed, lonely, and susceptible to their thoughts of suicide this time of year can put someone already contemplating suicide in an especially vulnerable place.
It’s true that the holidays can be a stressful time of year. For someone who is already lonely, depressed, or otherwise suffering it can be a tough time. But there’s no evidence to suggest that this results in more people ending their own life around the holidays. I hope everyone will join me in what’s become a personal crusade to stop this myth in its tracks, and replace it with more productive information and education towards suicide prevention all year round.
Back in August we blogged about how many crisis lines had been in the news recently speaking about suicide prevention and a spike in calls following Robin Williams’ death.
It turns out that for many helplines, there continues to be an increase in calls compared to what was seen before the actor’s suicide on August 11. This week Newsweek filed a report stating that several helplines still haven’t seen their call volume return to normal.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, whose number was widely shared and publicized after Williams’ death, saw calls to their network increase from around 3,500 per day before the incident to 7,400 the day after. Still two months later they’re seeing about 200 more calls per day than what is considered standard. Other helplines report similar increases.
You can read the full article here. Has this increase in calls lead to more suicides being prevented? We hope so, but as the article says it will be awhile before we’ll have any definitive answers on that. In the meantime we can hope that the raised awareness about the work of suicide hotlines, and the outpouring of support and publicizing these numbers, has indeed resulted in more people getting help.
World Mental Health Day, observed on October 10th each year, promotes raising awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilizing efforts in support of mental health. Worldwide much still needs to be done, including better education and awareness to combat stigma, and improving access to quality, affordable care.
This short film follows filmmaker and physician Delaney Ruston on her journey to uncover mental health stories spanning the globe. It’s striking how universal these experiences are. The video also touches on the movements that have been made to help remove stigma from mental health, and how countries worldwide are committed to addressing mental health needs, according to the World Health Organization’s mental health action plan for 2013-2020.
For more on World Mental Health day, we thought you might also like to check out:
The World Health Organization
Five ways we could improve our mental health today, by former heavyweight champion Frank Bruno
World Mental Health Day 2014: The misconceptions broken down
People face many barriers on the path to receiving mental health care. Some of the most common are:
Stigma continues to be one of the toughest barriers to take down.
- Properly recognizing the signs and symptoms of mental illness
- Knowing where to go for help
- Availability of services
- Cost of accessing services
- The stigma associated with accessing the service
Every day people are still made to feel ashamed for having a mental illness in spite of these being legitimate medical issues. We’d never dream of making someone with cancer feel as though they did something to “deserve it.” We couldn’t imagine looking at someone with diabetes and telling them that taking medication everyday to stay healthy wasn’t normal. I can’t comprehend telling someone with a broken leg, “If you put your mind to it you can walk without using crutches.” And yet these are the attitudes that those living with mental illness are still facing every day. Some people still fail to see the medical legitimacy in mental illness, causing many to be too embarrassed or ashamed to seek help.
Courtesy of SAMHSA below are some suggestions for messages to share the helps reduce stigma:
Support People with Mental Illness –
Society needs to understand that people with mental illness are not the “other,” they are our family members, friends, neighbors, and co-workers. They deserve understanding and support.
Learn More about Prevention –
Behaviors and symptoms that signal the development of a behavioral health condition often manifest two to four years before a disorder is present. Effective prevention and early intervention strategies reduce the impact of mental illness.
Help is Available –
Treatment and mental health services are available and effective. Local crisis lines can be a wonderful source of emotional support and an access point for referrals to professional mental health treatment. If they are in crisis or suicidal, Americans can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Canadians can dial their local crisis centre if they are suicidal or in crisis. Local helplines, crisis lines, and distress centres, or 2-1-1 Information and Referral lines can also be excellent sources of support and referral.
Recovery is Possible –
Most people are able to successfully overcome or manage mental illness, including serious mental illness, with the right treatment and support. Spread the message of recovery.
So during mental illness awareness week, I hope that we’ll all recommit ourselves to educating others about mental illness, and continue to chip away at that stigma. Helplines are on the front lines of this fight. Every day, people who haven’t yet talked to their doctor or a loved one about their symptoms choose to reach out to a helpline. Being greeted with the understanding, knowledge, and validation that helpline workers provide plays a huge role in reassuring someone that it’s okay to seek help.
As Suicide Prevention week comes to a close, we wanted to share this infographic on the impact of suicide in the US, courtesy of the Social Work Degree Center.
We hope that in this past week millions of people have been exposed to the facts, statistics, stories, and impact that suicide has on individuals and communities worldwide, and that they came away with a better understanding of this public health crisis. Greater education on this topic will hopefully bring about a reduction in the stigma surrounding mental illness and suicide, ultimately resulting in more people seeking and receiving help.
Today we recognize World Suicide Prevention Day and in its first ever global report on suicide, the World Health Organization reports that a staggering 800,000 lives per year are lost to suicide worldwide; one person every 40 seconds.
The report goes on to say:
- National prevention plans endorsed by governments could go a long way in preventing suicide, but currently only 28 countries have such strategies.
- Most people who die by suicide have a diagnosable mental illness. It’s extremely important for mental illness or substance abuse issues to be identified, diagnosed, treated, and managed as early as possible.
- Follow up care plays a huge role in keeping someone safe if they have previously had thoughts or made attempts at suicide. Phone calls, visits, and other regular contact with health professionals is key, as well as vigilance among family and friends.
- In almost all regions of the world, people over age 70 have the highest rate of suicide.
- Globally suicide is the leading cause of death for 15-29 year olds.
- Removal of means is a key component to suicide prevention
You can read that full report by the WHO here.
If we could impart just one thing on society it’d be this: Suicide is preventable, and it’s everyone’s business. It takes all of us, every single person out there, to help prevent suicide. Of course social workers, therapists, psychologists, doctors, and nurses all have an important role to play. But it’s the teachers, coaches, colleagues, professors, employers, friends, and family who are arguably the ones on the front lines of suicide prevention. They are the ones with the opportunity to recognize the warning signs, be aware of the risk factors, and know the difference between myths and facts. They are some of the first ones who should ask the direct question about suicide, and be ready and accepting of an honest answer. They can make a world of a difference by being there to listen without judgment even though the conversation can be uncomfortable and scary. They are the ones who can help most in reducing the stigma and shame all too commonly associated with mental illness and suicide. Suicide prevention is everyone’s responsibility.
And of course we have to give some major recognition to all of the suicide prevention helpline workers all around the world who save countless lives every single day through the simple act of being there. You are there for people at all hours to listen, empathize, normalize and validate feelings, and provide resources. For many people that phone call, text, or chat session is the first step at getting help, and your warm, accepting demeanor reassures them that they will encounter kindness and understanding along the way, and that there is hope. Thank you, we at iCarol are honored to play a small part in the incredible work you do.
Since the news of actor and comedian Robin Williams’ suicide last week, the number of times that suicide helpline numbers have been shared via social media is astounding. The number to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline has undoubtedly been the most common but more localized numbers all over North America, the UK, Australia, and elsewhere have also been shared. This has spurred an increase in call volume to suicide prevention lines everywhere and we wanted to take a moment to share some of the news stories we’ve seen in the previous week.
A report on NBC Nightly News about depression in America featured interviews with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline staff in New York City
The Support Network in Edmonton, Alberta saw a 7% increase to calls last week
This local report in New Jersey highlights the increased call volume seen at CONTACT We Care
The Didi Hirsch Suicide Prevention Center in Los Angeles has seen a 95% increase, virtually doubling their calls in the last week
We’re sure this collection of articles barely skims the surface of the experiences of helplines everywhere in the past week. Was your helpline featured in local or national media recently? Please leave us a comment below or send an email to and we will add your article to the list above.
We commend the great work that all of you have been doing in the face of increased awareness and media attention. Out of this notable loss millions have been exposed to the realities of depression and suicide, and your staff and volunteers have admirably stepped up to the challenge and been there to greet people with warm and empathetic listening. Especially for those seeking help for the first time you’ve provided comfort and reassurance that they’re not alone.