Having worked in the mental health field for more than 20 years, I am reminded every day that people with mental health issues do recover and continue as productive members of their communities. I have witnessed countless stories of hope and resilience; recovery is indeed real.

However, I have also seen individuals and families at their darkest hour. In particular, I have seen how hopelessness, isolation, drug and alcohol abuse, depression, high levels of stress, extreme anger and unbearable emotional pain can sometimes lead to suicide.

Robin Williams' untimely death has revived the discussion about depression and suicide in the media. As we remember all the joy he brought to our lives, we also need to seize this opportunity to talk about suicide, the warning signs and most importantly, that suicide is preventable.

In California, and locally in the East Bay, we're lucky to have multiple resources and services available to educate the community about the warning signs of suicide and help those who are contemplating suicide.

The state has a well-developed suicide prevention campaign called "Know the Signs," funded by the Mental Health Services Act (also known as Prop. 63). On the campaign's website (suicideispreventable.org), there are a number of helpful tools and resources including a tool to help anyone learn about, and recognize, the warning signs someone might show when they're contemplating suicide. These warning signs include:

  • Talking about suicide or death in general.


    Advertisement

  • Isolation from friends and family.

  • Expressing feelings of hopelessness, desperation, or are disillusioned with life.

  • Losing interest in activities they once enjoyed and general inability to experience pleasure.

  • Actions that could lead to self-harm such as hoarding medicine or getting a firearm.

  • Searching the Internet for suicide methods.

  • Increased alcohol and substance use.

  • Change in sleep patterns, including insomnia.

  • Failure to take care for themselves or reckless behavior.

  • Showing rage and talking about taking revenge.

  • Acting anxious or agitated.

    These warning signs are indicators of serious risk so it's important to address suicidal thoughts sooner rather than later. Although warning signs can sometimes be subtle, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (www.afsp.org) estimates that 50 percent to 75 percent of the people who attempt suicide tell someone about their plans. Some people may state their intentions directly, while others say more ambiguous statements like "Everyone would be better if I were not here" or "I want to go to sleep and never wake up."

    Regardless of how the signs are expressed, if you think a friend, a neighbor, a close relative or even someone you may not know very well is at risk of suicide, talk with him or her about it and share your concerns with friends and relatives who you know would also care.

    There are a million reasons not to talk about it today, but there is only one reason to do it now: Tomorrow may be too late.

    People in crisis and those seeking help for someone else can call the Alameda County Crisis Support Services Hotline at 1-800-309-2131 or the Nationwide Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Both lines are toll free and are available 24/7.

    Alameda County Behavioral Health Care Services (BHCS) also has a crisis support service for teens. By texting the word "safe" to 839863 teens can talk via text messages with a local counselor. The service is available from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. 7 days a week.

    If someone close to you died by suicide and you are coping with this tragic loss, Alameda County BHCS funds culturally responsive grief counseling services. For more information about this service and eligibility criteria, visit www.crisissupport.org and select "Grief Counseling."

    Talking about suicide may feel uncomfortable, but the benefits of reaching out will outweigh any perceived risk. If anything, your loved one will know that you care and that you're there for him or her. For more information on how to talk to someone about suicide, visit www.suicideispreventable.org and click on "Find the Words."

    If someone you know is showing the warning signs, chances are that person needs a friend to talk with. Be that person; take the first step.

    Manuel Jimenez Jr. MA, MFT, is the director of Alameda County Behavioral Health Care Services.