Early intervention is key to saving lives

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all of us in some way. While the long-term mental health repercussions may not be clear, the challenges of the last 18 months are sure to be taking a toll on many.

September is National Suicide Prevention Month, a time to acknowledge suicide as the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., claiming more than 45,000 people a year. The rate is particularly acute among younger people, and more than half of those taking their own life did not have a known mental health condition.

Following the suicide of local high school student several years ago, Hinsdale Central parent Tara DeGeer created The Parent List, a Central PTO-supported online platform where parents can leave anonymous references to mental health professionals and others who have proven helpful to their children.

Its goal, as articulated by licensed social worker and mental health consultant Alisa Messana in a guest essay for The Hinsdalean last October, “is to streamline the process of and decrease the stress around connecting with a provider.”

The Parent List can be found online at https://hcpto.org/parent-list.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) identifies several warning signs to look for when assessing those potentially at risk.

• Threats or comments about killing themselves that might begin with seemingly harmless thoughts

• Increased alcohol and drug use

• Aggressive behavior

• Social withdrawal from friends, family and the community

• Dramatic mood swings

• Talking, writing or thinking about death

• Impulsive or reckless behavior

NAMI recommends that loved ones encourage those struggling to talk about what they are going through, without judgment. Provide positive reinforcement by honoring their feelings and summarizing their thoughts to help them feel heard and validated.

Community Memorial Foundation maintains an online mental health resource guide at https://www.cmfdn.org/resources/ mental-health-resources that features community and hospital-based mental and behavioral health services through the foundation’s service area in Cook and DuPage County.

The foundation also supports The Living Room, an alternative to the hospital emergency room to support a person with mental illness who is experiencing an increase in symptoms. Managed by NAMI Metro Suburban in partnership with Pillars, the facility is located in La Grange and is open 365 days a year. The service is free and no insurance is required. Visit nami-metsub.org/recovery-programs/the-living-room for more information.

Individuals who are in crisis or experiencing difficult or suicidal thoughts should call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273 TALK (8255) or text the word “NOW” to 741741 to be connected to a free, trained crisis counselor on the Crisis Text Line.

Those who have experienced loss as a result of suicide are invited to NAMI’s fifth annual Remembrance Ceremony from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 28. There will be opportunities to share stories and find comfort in a safe space. Visit https://namidupage.org/remembrance-ceremony for more information.