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Experts offer suicide prevention advice in the wake of Penn psychologist's death

Philadelphia Inquirer - 9/11/2019

Sep. 11--The death of the University of Pennsylvania's head of counseling and psychological services by suicide this week has once again drawn attention to the growing need for mental health services and how common it is for people to find themselves in crisis.

"It shows that it's not something that happens to weak people, uninformed people. It can happen to anyone, including nationally renowned experts in this field. Oncologists still get cancer. Psychologists are not immune to suicide," said Stacey Cahn, a clinical associate professor of psychology at Rowan University.

Suicide is now the second leading cause of death for teens and young adults, and people who die by suicide typically exhibit warning signs. But psychologists say even close friends and family members may not recognize these signs if they don't know what to look for.

More than half of people who died by suicide did not have a known, diagnosed mental health condition, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Feelings of hopelessness and being a burden to others are common among people experiencing depression and thoughts of suicide.

But it is always worthwhile to ask for help -- or to offer it to someone you are worried about. The majority of people who seek help for depression are able to address their illness with therapy or medication, according to the National Institutes of Health.

"The idea isn't that we shouldn't talk about suicide. We should talk about suicide and we shouldn't be afraid to ask people we're worried about if they're thinking of killing themselves," Cahn said.

Here's what you can do:

Warning signs don't necessarily lead to suicide, but are associated with people experiencing suicidal thoughts. The more warning signs a person exhibits, the greater the risk. Common signs include:

-- Talking about wanting to die

-- Expressing feelings of hopelessness, pain, being trapped, or being a burden to others

-- Increased use of alcohol or drugs

-- Anxious, agitated or reckless behavior

-- Sleeping too little or too much

-- Withdrawing or becoming isolated

-- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge

-- Extreme mood swings

If you believe someone you know is at risk of harming themselves -- or if you are having such thoughts yourself -- seek help immediately.

-- Call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 800-273-TALK (8255) or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.

-- Seek help from a medical or mental health professional.

-- Do not leave them alone.

-- Remove firearms, alcohol, drugs and sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt.

Broaching the topic of suicide can be uncomfortable, but psychologists say that if you are concerned about a friend or family member, you should talk to them about it.

-- Pick a quiet time when you can talk in private.

-- Ask if they are feeling suicidal and if they want help.

-- Be direct in asking if they are contemplating suicide.

-- Guide the conversation using "I" sentences that convey your concern, rather than "you" sentences that may make the person feel badly, as if they've let you down or done something wrong.

-- If someone decides to open up to you, don't try to fix the problem -- just listen.

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