A Reminder That It’s OK to Seek Help

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Dear Talkspace Readers,

Because we at Talkspace are so often touched by mental health issues directly, it can come as something of a surprise when we’re impacted in less expected ways.

Recently we were saddened to hear the news of the passing of a young Serbian model whose likeness was used in some of our marketing materials. Her name was Marija Ćurčić. We saw her face each day on our website, smiling happily from a smartphone in a pink shirt, sunglasses pulled high to hold her hair in place.

I’d venture to guess that everyone knows someone affected by mental illness: for me it was a close family member as well as a good friend, both of whom died by suicide. I often ask myself if I could have done something differently — if I could have noticed the signs earlier or been more involved.

For you, it may be a parent who struggled with addiction when you were growing up, a friend who battled depression during high school, or a girlfriend whose anxiety made social interactions difficult for you both.

Maybe you yourself went through a period when you felt less than your best. Maybe you sought the help of a professional therapist. Afterall, it’s finally getting more common for people to discuss their struggles openly — we are breaking the stigma. Slowly.

At Talkspace we see the impact of mental illness every day. Talkspace therapists work with clients at some of the lowest points of their lives — when they can’t get out of bed, fear to leave the house, can no longer face the world. We strive to intimately understand the pain our clients experience, whatever its root cause.

While we’re not privy to all the details of Marija’s death, we recognize that suicide can be an incredibly difficult and uncomfortable topic, and we bear a responsibility to discuss it frankly and openly.

By bringing greater awareness to issues surrounding suicide — and providing more information from professional therapists regarding methods of addressing suicide — we can hopefully help save lives and decrease the suffering of those struggling with suicidal thought and ideation.

Out of respect for Marija’s family we’re removing her image from our website and communications. Marija was not a Talkspace user, but by honoring her memory and sharing resources, we may be able to help those with issues like those with which she struggled. It’s important to know the signs and understand that there are resources and support available.

It’s not easy, learning this about someone you knew even glancingly, and, from what we know, Marija did not leave any note or message about her state of mind. It feels disorienting to lose someone whose likeness you knew well, but whose life you knew not at all. Sadly, as with so many cases involving suicide, we’re left with way more questions than answers.

We want to express our deepest sympathies to Marija’s friends and family. We’ve reached out to offer grief counseling to her family and hope to provide assistance for others in her situation.

Below you’ll find important advice to keep in mind if you believe you know someone struggling with suicidal thoughts. Please make use of it even if you’re uncertain whether it’s needed.

Thanks for taking the time to read this.

Oren Frank

Co-Founder and CEO, Talkspace

Know the Warning Signs

If a friend or loved one has mentioned suicide, wanting to die, has become more withdrawn or seems hopeless, it’s important to recognize that this might be sign that they’re at risk of suicide.

Conversely, a shift in positive mood that is atypical or sudden, altruistic actions like giving up important (or all) belongings, or showing uncharacteristic and excessive affection can also signify suicide intent.

Even if these signals don’t end up indicating a suicide risk, you may be able to provide comfort or assistance to a friend who is suffering.

The National Suicide Lifeline describes the warning signs that may help to determine someone’s risk. They indicate that you should be particularly aware of behavior that “is new, has increased, or seems related to a painful event, loss, or change.” If a friend or loved one exhibits the following behaviors, please seek immediate help:

  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves
  • Looking for a way to kill themselves, like 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; behaving recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or isolating themselves
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Extreme mood swings

While everyone is different and may show all, none, or a combination of these signs and symptoms, you know when you’re worried about a friend or loved one. And, when in doubt, it’s better to reach out.

How to Reach Out

It can feel intimidating or uncomfortable to initiate a conversation about your concerns for someone else’s mental health. You may believe that by bringing up your worries, you may be “giving them ideas” or giving those ideas too much weight. Talkspace therapist Cynthia Catchings, LCSW-S (Virginia), recommends that, “as individuals, friends, and family members, we can offer resources, company, and support. Having information to contact a suicide hotline is also very helpful.”

And, in fact, a significant amount of research has shown that talking openly about your concern for someone’s safety and asking about their suicide risk is one of the most effective forms of support. It’s these conversations that help save the lives of those who are most at risk. Catchings also recommends that we “keep in mind that only mental health professionals, and those advocates trained to assist in these cases, have the right tools to assist,”

Asking about someone’s well-being, is of course, the first step. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline recommends sitting down to initiate an open, but direct conversation when you’re willing to listen. Allow your loved one to express their feelings, and accept their feelings without judgement.

This means listening without debate about whether suicide is right or wrong, whether their feelings are good or bad, or about the “value of life.” They also stress that one must get involved and be available, without acting shocked. Also important is not to be sworn to secrecy and to get help from people or agencies that have specific expertise in crisis intervention and suicide prevention.

You may want to begin the conversation simply by noting your worry and asking how they feel. Something like, “I really care about you and you’ve seemed down lately. You are thinking of hurting yourself?”

When There is Immediate Suicide Risk

Assessing your friend or loved one’s imminent risk is extremely important. If they’ve made previous attempts or have a plan in place, they may be at a significantly higher risk of suicide. Additionally, their risk maybe be heightened if they have access to drugs, alcohol, weapons, or other objects that may be used to harm oneself.

If they are at increased risk, you should take immediate action. Ensure that the person is safe, that there are no weapons or dangerous objects available, and don’t leave them alone. Call 911, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255), or drive them to a nearby emergency room for immediate support.

Jill E. Daino, LCSW, and Talkspace therapist, recommended that if you are worried about someone who doesn’t live near you, “call 911 and explain your concerns so a safety check can be made.” Emergency services personnel will be familiar with the proper protocol and can assist you in getting the person the help they need. Daino also recommended that for “a child or teenager who is worried about a friend, help them understand that they should not keep this secret. They should reach out to a trusted adult for guidance and additional support — a parent, a teacher, guidance counselor — kids and teens should not try to carry this burden for their friend alone.”

Resources

There is help available if you or a loved one are feeling suicidal. These organizations and hotlines are available, and provide 24/7 support for those trying to get help for a suicidal friend or loved one.

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