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Month is best, worst of times

September is the month that takes us from the hot and humid days of summer and glides us gently into the upcoming autumn with colorful leaves and cooler evenings. But this is also a month that brings anxiety and depression to far too many of our fellow citizens. September has been designated as National Suicide Prevention Month; a time to recognize that thoughts of suicide too frequently materialize into “acts” of suicide.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, mental health and suicidal thoughts are not mutually exclusive; and even more concerning is that anyone, regardless of age, gender, race or background can be affected. But there is a difference in the manner in which we respond to the individual who may be suffering from a diagnosed mental health condition and to the individual who speaks of just “ending it all.” Suicidal thoughts and seemingly off-the-cuff comments should not be considered normal or “just talk” and should be taken seriously.

Every year millions of people are affected in some manner by mental illness, and thousands of these individuals die by suicide leaving friends and family members with feelings of shame and a sense of guilt for not seeing the signs or taking the victim seriously.

There are many triggers that affect one’s mental well-being. Some of the most common triggers include social issues, financial or economic changes, loss of job, loss of a family member, deterioration of one’s physical health, and yes, the weather.

Most people feel happier when the sun is shining, and can feel a little “under the weather” with cloudy skies and heavy rain. However, the individual who is pre-disposed to depression or other forms of mental illness can be affected more severely than those who are not. This condition is known as seasonal affective disorder. In the wintertime it takes on the name of winter depression as a result of the lack of daylight causing negative vibes. Seasonal affective disorder is real and according to NAMI causes unhappiness, moodiness and increased depression. For the individual who may already have suicidal thoughts, this is a dangerous situation; and this month with its transitioning weather conditions could be a trigger.

But September brings more than just changes in the weather, it’s also the month when many of the bills for children starting school are increased, there is the “empty nest syndrome” that affects many of the parents as their children head off to college leaving the bedroom empty and the house quiet. It is also a time when businesses slow down, creating lay-offs. Not only is a lack of income the reason for marital disharmony, it can also be a reason for an increase in depression and a rise in suicidal thoughts.

It is never my intent to spread pessimism, or doom and gloom, but many of us are unaware of some of the dangers and facts about mental illness. For instance, suicide is the second leading cause of death among people between the ages of 10 and 34. That is a staggering statistic.

According to the American Psychological Association, this month, September, is the time to talk about this topic that many of us consider taboo. But talk about it we must. With suicide as the tenth leading cause of death in the United States, can we really just ignore those who may be suffering from mental illness or considering suicide? Can we continue to brush off their comments such as, “I just want to go to sleep and never wake up.” Or, “I don’t want to live this way anymore.” Here are some things to be aware of if you think someone you know is contemplating suicide (APA):

¯ Talking about wanting to die or kill oneself

¯ Looking for ways to kill oneself, such as searching online or buying a gun

¯ Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live

¯ Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain

¯ Talking about being a burden to others

¯ Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs

¯ Acting anxious or agitated, or behaving recklessly

¯ Sleeping too little or too much

¯ Withdrawing or feeling isolated

¯ Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge

¯ Displaying extreme mood swings

According to a recent APA report, the following is a breakdown for those in the United States with serious thoughts of suicide:

¯ 4.3% of all adults

¯ 11.0% of young adults aged 18-25

¯ 17.2% of high school students

¯ 47.7% of lesbian, gay, and bisexual high school students

Knowing the warning signs of suicide can save a life, maybe the life of someone you love. The stigma attached to mental illness needs to be recognized and abolished; mental illness must be viewed as any other illness and treated with the same commitment as we do with heart disease or cancer.

Thankfully I have not personally suffered the loss of someone I loved to suicide, but I am one of the few — if you or someone you know is exhibiting any of the above signs or symptoms mentioned please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255. Mental illness that can lead to suicide can be treated, and hopefully a life will be saved.

September! One of my favorite months, the evenings are cooler, the leaves are starting to turn colors at the tree tops, the apples are crisp and life is good; it’s Sam’s kind of weather.

Have a great day!

Vicki Westling is a Dunkirk resident. Send comments to editorial@observertoday.com

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