September is Suicide Prevention & Awareness Month: Know the Signs

Suicide Prevention 2

By WVUA 23 Digital Reporter Kyrsten Eller

Nearly 40 million Americans 18 and older suffer from anxiety disorders, while about 17 million struggle with depression. The ongoing pandemic is giving rise to more suicides. Knowing this, it’s important we take a step back to check on ourselves and those around us.

Raising awareness for mental health is always important, especially during times of uncertainty. September is Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month, which makes a great time for a reminder to take time, show support and offer help for anyone who may be suffering in silence. 

The Tuscaloosa Veterans Association Medical Center continues raising awareness of its mental health resources available for veterans. The VA Medical Center encourages veterans to reach out for any needed mental health assistance.

“Veterans are driven and resilient, but everyone needs help sometimes,” said VE Medical Center Director John Merkle. “Whether veterans are looking for peer-to-peer support, clinical care, counseling or something else, VA is here to help. VA and community resources can help veterans through life’s challenges.”

Whether you’re a veteran or supporter, there are many ways to reach out, including:

  • Calling or texting a friend or fellow Veteran
  • Tapping into VA tools to get help when going through life’s challenges
  • Contact the Suicide Prevention Office at 205-554-2000 X-3235 or X-4755

The VA also has an online resource called VA Solid Start, which connects veterans with qualified representatives who call three times during a veteran’s first year of separation from their military career to walk them through the benefits available.

They also offer a Self-Check Assessment, a confidential risk assessment veterans can use to help them understand if and how stress and depression are affecting them.

For more information and resources, visit online here.

Even at the University of Alabama, the faculty and staff continue to do their part in showing their support. UA Counseling Center Executive Director Dr. Greg Vander Wal, who has been in practice since 2013, said reaching out is the biggest priority.

“If anybody is experiencing suicidal thoughts, they should reach out for professional help,” said Vander Wal. “It doesn’t have to be medication, but getting established there could be a really great first step. If they’re experiencing those kinds of thoughts, safety is the No. 1 priority and being able to connect to resources and seek help, that’s a huge protective factor. We know that individuals who seek help for struggling with suicide or suicidal thoughts have a much better outcome. So, that would be No 1.”

Along with reaching out, pay attention to your own feelings, Vander Wal said.

“Mental health is a continuum, we all need to pay attention to our mental health,” Vander Wal said. “When we aren’t taking care of ourselves and when we aren’t engaging in resources or coping strategies, that can have a negative impact on our mental health.”

Symptoms that someone is struggling include big changes in normal function or interactions, withdrawl or signs of depression.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health or having suicidal thoughts, help is available. You can always reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 800-273-8255, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

“It takes a lot of strength to ask for help but it’s such a resilient thing, it shows an investment in yourself and getting yourself the help you need. It’s a step in a positive direction,” said Vander Wal.

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