By Pam Rentz
“Be curious about others’ wellness instead of being judgmental or critical.”
That’s what Dr. Charlayne Hayling-Williams had to say about mental illness warning signs during a recent Instagram Live hosted by Urban Health Media Project.
On the IG Live, called “Therapy Thursday,” the topic of discussion was suicide and self-harm prevention. Hayling-Williams, the expert panelist, is president and co-founder of Community Wellness Ventures, a social service agency in Southeast DC.
Other participants included Jasmine Haynes, a graduate student from Ocala, Florida who is pursuing a master’s in psychology at Florida International University, and Anastasia Vlasova, creative director of This Is My Brave Teens and an incoming freshman at New York University from Reston, Virginia. This is My Brave is a nonprofit that empowers people to “put their names and faces” to true stories of recovery from mental illness and addiction.
Suicide was the second leading cause of death for people 15 to 19 in 2019, the latest numbers available, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Unintentional injury, which includes motor vehicle deaths, poisoning and falls, was the top cause.
“Having a period of extreme anxiety or depression doesn’t mean every day is that way and it doesn’t mean that you can’t seek the support that's required and thrive,” said Williams.
As more people become fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and society gets back to something close to normal, many are dealing with the aftermath of the pandemic’s impact on their mental health.
Among the hustle and bustle of one's own life, it can be easy for someone struggling to go unnoticed. However, as mental health safety tips work their way into what’s considered common knowledge, resources are more accessible than ever. But how to tell the good advice from the not-so-good?
Haynes assured viewers the most impactful thing they could do for someone struggling with suicidal ideation is to direct them to mental health resources such as the suicide hotline or counseling.
Some people may be unable to provide support to someone considerng suicide because they aren’t sure what to say or they don’t currently have mental capacity to have such a sensitive conversation.
Haynes suggested to viewers to be cognizant about their knowledge about suicide and tips of how to help someone struggling with suicidal thoughts before offering personal advice.
“Not everyone is capable of talking to someone with suicide ideations and that’s okay,” said Haynes.
Knowing where to go for help and being able to vocalize what they’re feeling can be stressful for young people struggling with suicidal ideation.
Vlasova, who struggled to seek help for her depression during high school said that it was easy for people to not recognize her suffering.
“Even when someone would ask me ‘how are you’, I would just say ‘I’m okay...but how are you’ and just change the conversation so it’s back on them without answering the initial question,” said Vlasova.
Vlasova recommended author Margaret Robinson Rutherford’s “Perfectly Hidden Depression,” which dives into the lives of those who do not display the commonly known signs of depression, such as isolation or lack of motivation.
Williams said the best way to pick up on self-harm warning signs that are not obvious is to be cognizant of your friends and family breaking patterns or routines in a way that seems out of character. Checking in with loved ones on unusual changes in their life can make a world of a difference, she said.
But people are less likely to seek help for their feelings and thoughts they may not quite understand themselves can deter them from reaching out at all.
"We're just not educated enough about mental health vocabulary," said Vlasova. "We don't know how to label our feelings, label what we're thinking."
If you or a loved one is struggling with suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.