As of 2018, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., with roughly 48,000 Americans dying by suicide each year. In Hays County alone, 35 lives were lost in 2018, and now the COVID-19 pandemic is placing additional stress in people’s lives.
The average person is not properly equipped to handle a crisis such as suicide or suicidal ideation; not even mental health professionals always receive formal training to treat suicidal people. As a result, the conversation regarding mental health and what it looks like needs to expand further than just one month a year.
In 2019, the Hays County Commissioners Court proclaimed September as the official month for Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Although it is important and a step in the right direction to have a month of awareness to prevent such a tragic occurrence, there should be more resources made available year-round for the vulnerable, and the conversation about mental health needs to broaden exponentially.
With how complex psychiatric illnesses are, it is not easy to address all aspects of them and how to best treat them. Mental illness can manifest itself in many different ways—it is not just a one size fits all scenario. Because of this, talking about mental illnesses regularly is extremely important, as it can help identify the needs of someone who is struggling.
Young adults, although independent, also need a helping hand. College is incredibly stressful and a new chapter for many students; naturally, they should be equipped with the right resources to navigate the tumultuous waters. Many students develop depression and anxiety as they adjust and adapt to the freedom and independence a college life carries.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a popular form of treatment for those who have a mental illness. Finding a specialized therapist at an affordable price can be more challenging than some may realize; on average, therapy costs between $60-$120 per session. Although insurance may cover the cost of it, many Americans—especially college students—find themselves without insurance in the first place.
With universities already understaffed and underequipped to handle thousands of students’ mental health, many find themselves in a predicament: Either get put on a waitlist for complementary counseling or outsource a therapy session—the latter of which can be costly for a newly independent adult.
To not have these resources made available is a disservice to students, who without being made aware of them, may never seek out the help they need. Due to this obvious lack of immediate resources, universities should find ways to make more resources easily available to the student body.
One simple solution could be to require professors to include a list of mental health related resources in their syllabi to help provide these much-needed services to their students. Upon examination of syllabi outlines for Texas State, professors are not requested nor required to have a dedicated mental health section—which, arguably, is a life-saving resource that many students need, especially right now due to the ongoing pandemic.
Requiring a mental health section in future syllabi can only address and benefit a dialogue that has been tucked away for far too long. It is only one example of a multitude of options in easily sharing resources to those who might find the need for them.
On a broader scale, advocating for mental health and providing adequate resources to prevent suicide across the nation looks a bit more complicated. The sharing of resources usually stems from acts of selfishness, not compassion. Workplaces are more about advocating appearance and brand image, not the wellbeing of staff and employees.
With September being Suicide Awareness Month, many brands start to surface and promote themselves with mental health resources. It is certainly a good opportunity for worldwide companies to make a profit and stand in pretend solidarity with those who struggle with mental illness. However, unfortunately, it is all performative.
The brands utilizing September as a platform to speak up about mental illnesses should be doing it year-round. This includes providing employees with mental health days and normalizing the conversation regarding mental health. A highly stressful work environment can affect an employee in a multitude of ways, and bringing that stress home only hinders one’s mental health.
The ongoing pandemic has forced thousands of people to work at home, bringing the stress of a work environment into what should be a space to unwind and relax; the line between work and home is blurred. Now, more than ever, employers should be tolerant and listen to the needs of their employees.
Employees should not fear asking for a mental health day—it should be regarded as the same as a sick day. Healthy habits should be promoted in the workplace, and providing and promoting a safe work environment is only a start. The end goal is to prioritize one’s personal well-being.
What prevents suicide is not just having a month dedicated to it; it is also having the resources available year-round when people need help. Organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and Hope For The Day (HFTD) work year-round to destigmatize mental health and bring awareness to the warning signs of someone under severe distress.
These organizations have helped provide resources in an inclusive way to everyone —NAMI has organized a walk, across the U.S., and HFTD continues to hold virtual events that inform the attendees of ways they can be allies for mental health. Attending these events is free and open to the public—yet another way we can all get involved to destigmatize mental health.
Dedicating September to suicide and suicide prevention allows people to inform themselves further; however, the efforts slowly fade away as the month passes and the conversation no longer becomes relevant, leaving those struggling behind once more.
Opening up the conversation is certainly a stride in the right direction, but the efforts need to be constant in order to progress toward real, impactful change. Educational institutions and workplace environments need to think about implementing mental health advocacy long-term, not simply for 30 out of 365 days.
-Valeria Torrealba is a public relations junior
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