It is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States and the third leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 24, yet suicide remains a difficult topic for many people to address.
September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, and a University of Toledo psychiatrist wants to change the conversation surrounding mental illness and suicide to move toward a culture of acceptance and tolerance.Dr. Tanvir Singh, medical director of child and adolescent inpatient psychiatry at the UT Kobacker Center, said mental illnesses should be treated the same way physical ailments are treated.
“We have shown that there are physical changes that occur with mental illness, but we don’t look at it with the same lens,” Singh said. “There are different, personalized treatments for someone who is experiencing chest pain. We need to do the same for patients who are experiencing emotional pain.”
He said mental illnesses are made up of a delicate balance of biological, psychological and social components, and there is not a one-size-fits-all method to treatment.
“Medications can work for some people, while others need more intensive treatment,” Singh said. “There have been improvements in the way we treat mental illness, but we need to focus more directly on evidence-based therapies to help each individual patient.”
Singh said patients having suicidal thoughts are in a state of dilemma. They make a conscious effort to try to stay positive and strong, but it isn’t long before they revert to old habits of thinking. He said it is this self-talk that can push people into isolation and put them at risk for suicide.
“These individuals struggle with their own thoughts,” Singh said. “They can begin to feel like they are a burden to their families or that they are not needed. These thoughts keep them from wanting to reach out to others, and they begin to pull away from friends and family.”
Maintaining a close relationship with those who are struggling mentally and emotionally is key, but Singh advised a careful approach to conversation.
“We always want to get to the bottom of a problem. We push for answers and can appear aggressive when we only want to help,” he said. “It’s best to just talk with individuals in a nonjudgmental way. If they are having suicidal thoughts, it will likely come to the surface naturally.”
Singh advised not every person will open up immediately, but he or she will know you care. He said engaging in regular conversation can reveal someone may be struggling emotionally.
“If an individual exhibits personality changes, is increasingly more irritable, begins to lose function, or spends more and more time alone, it’s time to seek help,” he said. “The key is avoiding isolation. Everyone needs someone to talk to.”
If a loved one is experiencing mental health issues or having suicidal thoughts, Singh said an assessment by a mental health professional at a crisis center or hospital is the best place to start, but quality, ongoing care is critical.
“Every person is so important,” Singh said. “Mental health is just as important as physical health, and we need to support those struggling with mental illness and see that they continue to receive the individualized, client-centered care they need.”