Taking the Initiative on mental health conversations

The recent increase in news stories about issues such as depression and anxiety documents what mental health professionals throughout our community see every day. People around us are struggling.


That’s not surprising when you consider that the “new normal” in the wake of the COVID pandemic has brought economic challenges along with the ongoing effects of isolation, loss, and fear about COVID or monkeypox. For many, the current state of affairs is a recipe for depression, anxiety, hopelessness and self-harm, including increasing rates of suicide. And children — dealing with challenges at home, at school and on social media — are even more at risk than adults.


Not long ago, a teacher friend confided in me that two of her middle school students had recently died by suicide. It was devastating to hear, even after years of working in behavioral health. But it reminded me that suicide survivors — those who have either contemplated or attempted suicide and not completed the act — repeatedly say that what made the difference for them was one person reaching out to show they cared.

The good news is that any one of us can be that person. Here’s how:


First, actively pay attention to your friends, loved ones and neighbors, whatever the setting. Touch base more, stop by and say hello; let them know they are important to you. Then, ask them how they’re doing and be prepared to follow up if there’s even a hint they are in trouble. Keep in mind that you may have to fish a little bit before they open up.


If you feel awkward talking about mental health concerns, you’re not alone. But making the effort can prevent untold heartache and suffering, and there are resources available to help you know what to say and do.


One resource is Talkable Communities, an initiative among five behavioral health providers that provides free mental health trainings to residents of six Northeast Florida counties. Two of the courses — “Youth Mental Health First Aid” and “It's Time to Talk About It!” — specifically address how to aid young people at risk for mental illness, substance use and suicide. And “Question. Persuade. Refer.” teaches participants QPR: How to recognize the warning signs of a suicide crisis at any age, and then question, persuade and refer that person to get the appropriate help.


The goal of Talkable Communities is improving community mental health by building a cadre of people who know how to have these conversations, and who, in turn, can share that skill with others. Anyone can benefit from the trainings, which not only build awareness of mental illness and strategies for coping with it, but also promote social connectedness and improved mental wellbeing.

Knowing what to do if you think a child is using drugs or your friend is considering suicide is just as important as being a lifeguard or studying CPR, and it’s something all of us can learn. As we move forward in uncertain times, be the person who cares. Go to TalkableCommunities.org today and learn more about how you can help.


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