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Group shares warning signs of suicide, ways to prevent it

One local group is spreading the warning signs of suicide and mental health resources during September — which is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.

According to data from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, Stanly County had an age-adjusted suicide death rate of 20.4 from 2013-2017, which ranked 13th in the state, much higher than the state average (13.3) and higher than all nearby counties.

To help combat the county’s high suicide rate, the Stanly County Suicide Prevention Task Force was created in 2016 by John Giampaolo, a community engagement specialist at Cardinal Innovation.

“It was created on the basis that the fact that at that time, Stanly County was 16th in the state as far as suicide completion,” he said.

The task force was a collaborative effort between the Stanly County Health Department, law enforcement officials, local mental health agencies and others.

The group, which meets quarterly, works to spread information about suicide awareness, including having booths at local health fairs and creating educational materials showing the warning signs and resources.

“The best thing that we can do is to educate as many people as possible to notice the signs,” said Arin Wilhelm, community engagement specialist for Cardinal Innovations and a member of the taskforce.

Warning signs that someone might be at risk for suicide include:

• Talking about wanting to die or kill oneself or preoccupation with death;

• Looking for ways to kill oneself;

• Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live;

• Talking about being a burden to others;

• Increasing use of alcohol or drugs;

• Acting anxious or agitated or behaving recklessly;

• Sleeping too little or too much;

• Withdrawing or feeling isolated;

• Showing rage or talking about revenge;

• Displaying extreme mood swings; and

• Suddenly happier and calmer, especially after a period of sadness.

The task force also started pushing Crisis Intervention Team training for law enforcement and other emergency responders, a section of which deals with mental disorders and suicide.

Last year, in conjunction with Atrium Health, Cardinal Innovations had its first Whole Person Whole Community conference. The conference focused on how mental health, physical health, substance abuse, suicide, trauma and poverty are interrelated and affect the citizens of Stanly County.

Cardinal Innovations also offers free training programs to first responders and others in local communities, such as QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) and Mental Health First Aid, which helps people become more comfortable talking about suicide.

When talking about suicide, words and body language matter, Giampaolo said. He created a “Say This, Not That” chart detailing the right and wrong things to say to people who might be having suicidal thoughts.

If a person notices a problem with a friend or loved one, instead of asking “what’s wrong with you?” which sounds accusatory, ask them, “what’s the matter?” or “are you okay?”

Replacing a disapproving question such as “you’re not thinking about killing yourself, are you?” with a more direct, non-judgmental one like “have you had thoughts of suicide?” might offer the opening a person needs to seek help, organizers said.

It’s appropriate to say someone was lost or died by suicide as opposed to someone committed suicide, which can imply a criminal offense. People feel less inclined to talk and open up about their problems when the wrong language is used, Giampaolo said.

If someone is in crisis, there are many ways people can help:

• Take it seriously and tell the person why you are concerned;

• Don’t be afraid to ask if the person is suicidal;

• Don’t try to argue someone out of suicide;

• Encourage the person to seek professional help immediately;

• If it is a crisis, don’t leave the person alone;

• Take the person to an emergency room;

• Offer support and encouragement after the crisis; and

• Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or the 24/7 Cardinal Innovations crisis line at 1-800-939-5911.

“During the month of September — and throughout the year — we should share our humanity with those who are suffering,” Giampaolo wrote in a blog post on Cardinal Innovation’s website. “All of us, working together, can build safe places in our communities where people’s needs are understood, respected, and met.”

Anyone interested in joining the Stanly County Suicide Prevention Task Force can contact Arin Wilhelm at arin.wilhelm@cardinalinnovations.org.

About Chris Miller

Chris Miller has been with the SNAP since January 2019. He is a graduate of NC State and received his Master's in Journalism from the University of Maryland. He previously wrote for the Capital News Service in Annapolis, where many of his stories on immigration and culture were published in national papers via the AP wire.

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