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Healthy Tahoe: 5 things you should know about suicide

Tracy Protell, MD
Tracy Protell

Suicide is the 10th leading overall cause of death in the United States, and number two among people between the ages of 10 and 34. It was responsible for nearly 46,000 deaths in 2020. It deeply impacts individuals, families, and communities. 

Every person can play a role in helping to prevent suicide by knowing a few key things and where to get help.

The Basics. Most suicides result from depression. Depression can cause someone to feel worthless, hopeless, and a burden on others, making suicide falsely appear to be a solution. Mental health and suicide can be difficult to talk about, but your actions can make a difference. As a friend or family member, you may sense when something is wrong.



There are Warning Signs to Look Out For. Certain events and circumstances may increase risk for suicide. Look out for warning signs that may indicate a loved one needs help. Signs may include drastic changes in behavior and mood, verbal suicide threats, such as “You’d be better off without me,” lack of interest in future plans, references to “unbearable” feelings and hopelessness, saying good-bye to family and friends, giving away prized possessions, and increasing withdrawal from family and friends. These warning signs, among others, may indicate someone is at risk. 

Words are Powerful. While it can be uncomfortable to talk about suicide, research has shown that using the right words and asking someone if they are having thoughts of killing themselves is a helpful tool, and likely to have a positive, lifesaving impact. And though communities across the nation continue to make improvements in talking about suicide and discussing mental health more openly, suicide and suicidal ideation remain highly stigmatized. When talking about suicide, avoid using terms like, “commit or committed” as it places blame, can create feelings of shame, and further remove the person from getting the help they need. 



Resources Exist. Suicide is preventable and resources exist to support individuals, families, and communities. People experiencing a mental health crisis can call or text the numbers 9-8-8. Modeled after 911, the new three-digit 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline connects people experiencing suicidal, substance use, and/or mental health crisis, or any other kind of emotional distress to a trained mental health professional. The Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones.

You Can Help. If you suspect a loved one is in mental health-related distress and contemplating suicide, take a hyper-vigilant approach by removing any weapons, alcohol, drugs, or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt and contact the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline for support. If somebody is at immediate risk, don’t leave the person alone. Call 911, take them to the emergency room, or seek help from a medical or mental health professional.

Every person has a role in suicide prevention, and can make a positive difference in someone’s life by understanding and knowing what to do if you suspect they may be at risk of suicide.

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Dr. Tracy Protell is a child and adolescent psychiatrist with Barton Psychiatry & Mental Health. For more information about taking care of your mental health, or for a list of area resources and crisis lines, visit BartonHealth.org/MentalHealth.


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