Aiken: Many struggle during the holidays — How can you help?

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For many, the holiday season is a joyful time of the year, filled with celebrations, and social gatherings with family and friends. Unfortunately for others, this season can also be filled with sadness, loneliness, and anxiety. If someone you know is struggling emotionally, you can be the difference in getting them the help they need.

Every 40 seconds, someone in the world dies by suicide. In the state of Vermont, one person dies by suicide every 3 days. These numbers are difficult to comprehend, and even more staggering to discover that for every person that dies by suicide, 25 more attempt. While many people experience fleeting thoughts of suicide, their threats often go ignored. Debunking the myth that these thoughts of suicide are a sign of weakness, attention seeking, or being selfish is vital to helping the individual through these times of crisis. For those experiencing hopelessness and helplessness, suicide can seem like the only way out. Research has shown that when those contemplating suicide have someone to talk to, they often will agree to get the treatment they need.

If you suspect someone is contemplating suicide, it is imperative to talk with them and ask direct questions to find out what they're thinking. Your questions will not push them to act on their thoughts, but rather give them an opportunity to convey how they feel and reduce the risk of them completing suicide. Talking with and finding help for someone that may be suicidal can be difficult. Some helpful steps include being direct and talking openly about suicide. Be willing to listen and allow the person to express their feelings, and make sure that you are acting non-judgmentally. This includes not debating whether suicide is right or wrong, or whether their feelings are good or bad. Willingness to listen and offer hope that alternatives are available can provide reassurance and willingness to see that recovery is possible.

If you feel this person is a danger to themselves, it is critical that they are not left alone. Getting help from people or agencies specializing in crisis intervention and suicide prevention or calling 911 is necessary to help keep them safe. United Counseling Service can provide immediate emergency services to individuals in crisis 24 hours a day, 7 days a week throughout Bennington County. The clinician on call responds to all requests and can also help arrange more intense levels of care as needed, such as a hospital or short-term crisis bed. You can access these services by calling 802-442-5491. UCS also offers free Mental Health First Aid training for anyone in the community who would like to become better educated about mental illness, and how to respond in a mental health emergency. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 800-273-8255 (TALK), is also available 24 hours a day, and can provide free and confidential support for people in distress and help connect them to prevention and crisis resources.

Understanding the issues surrounding suicide and mental health is an important way to help others in crisis, and to begin to change the stigmas and misconceptions around suicide. As families and friends gather together this holiday season, if you suspect someone is having thoughts of suicide, speak up. It could be the greatest gift you give.

Katie Aiken is the intake coordinator with United Counseling Service's Youth and Family Service Division and provides trainings on Mental Health First Aid, Youth Mental Health First Aid and UMatter Suicide Prevention.

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