When Fonda Bryant called her aunt to ask if she wanted her shoes, her aunt knew something wasn’t right.
“She said, ‘Are you going to kill yourself?'” Bryant recalls. “And I said, ‘Yes.’ And she sprang into action, like a superhero. And she saved my life.”
Unbeknownst to her and her family, Bryant was suffering from depression that brought her to the brink of suicide. Her experience echoes a growing suicide crisis across the country.
September marks National Suicide Prevention Month, highlighting the pressing need for continued awareness about the signs of suicide and methods to prevent it. But even as conversations about mental health have become more common in public spaces, statistics show the continued challenges of asking for help.
How to help someone who is suicidal?
Although 47% of American adults receive mental health care in a given year, the average delay between the onset of symptoms and receiving treatment is a staggering 11 years, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. A study by the American Psychiatric Association found that more than a quarter of American workers are unsure how to access mental health care through their employer.
The suicide rate increased 2.6% from 2022 and 5% the year before, after declining in 2019 and 2020, according to CDC data.
“Things are not good. We have not been able to make a persistent and visible dent in suicide rates in the United States,” said Dr. J. John Mann, a professor of translational neuroscience at Columbia University in New York and director of the Conte Center for Suicide Prevention, told USA TODAY.
Suicide is rarely an isolated condition and often accompanies a mental illness or other condition.
For Bryant, that diagnosis was depression, one that has a strong correlation with suicide.
Bryant said his suicide attempt was the culmination of a long struggle with depression. As a single mother working full-time and facing a difficult financial situation, Bryant began to feel like her daily stresses were becoming unmanageable.
“It was like every move I made took great energy, took great effort, even talking, washing, just getting through today,” she said. “I felt like I was walking through molasses.”
At least 90 percent of those who attempt suicide have a psychiatric diagnosis, Mann said. “It is very rare to see a suicide, a death or even an attempt outside the context of a psychiatric illness; half of the time that illness is depression.”
Mental health problems can carry social sigma
As a suicide survivor, Bryant says the long-standing stigma surrounding depression and mental illness remains one of the biggest barriers to getting help for those suffering.
“They blame us for mass murders,” Bryant said. “Who wants to come out and say you have a mental health condition, when we could lose our jobs? That’s why we don’t say anything.”
That stigma often takes effect in the form of comments that depression sufferers encounter when sharing their symptoms. These could include suggestions to get out more, increase exercise or socializing, or other advice that overlooks the seriousness of a psychiatric diagnosis.
“If you have a broken leg, you need to see someone to put a cast on it, have orthopedic surgery, rest and let it heal, and then walk,” Mann said. “Depression is the same thing. Treat it and then start socializing, then start improving your academic performance again and all that other stuff. It’s not the other way around.”
Statistics show that stigma may dissipate as more Americans learn about suicide prevention techniques.
About “94% of people believe suicide can be prevented and more than 80% want to do something to help someone,” Jill Harkavy-Friedman, senior vice president of research at the American Federation for the Prevention of Suicide, told USA TODAY. Suicide. “So I think those are signs that the stigma is reducing. The problem is that only 30% of people have any idea how to know when someone is at risk and what to do.”
What does depression look like?
What is the most effective way to detect signs of depression? Mann said it all comes down to noticing changes in behavior. “That person is not her normal self. She has gone quiet. She is struggling. Mornings are particularly difficult. Work performance declines. Educational performance declines,” Mann said.
When it comes to preventing a suicide attempt, the best course of action may be simple, direct control, like the conversation Bryant had with his aunt to save her life.
“If you’re worried about someone, the first step is to trust them and have a conversation with them, and you can start with just, ‘How are you?'” Harkavy-Friedman said. “You don’t have to become a therapist. You just want to open the door to say, ‘I care about you. I wonder if you feel so bad that you’ve thought about taking your own life.'”
Mann stressed the importance of a face-to-face conversation. “When you see someone and ask them how they’re doing, look at them when they give you the answer. Think about what the answer means in relation to what you already know about them and how they’re doing.”
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‘You’re not alone. Need help?’
Bryant decided to turn her experience into action after another brush with suicide in 2014. One night after she was fired from her job, she left her gym and drove to a parking lot in uptown Charlotte with the intention of jumping off the street. rail. .
Bryant said a voice told him to get back in the car. She kept her eyes on the moon during the drive home, and collapsed into tears the moment she parked.
The experience prompted their campaign to put up signs saying “You are not alone. Do you need help?” along with the suicide prevention hotline around the perimeter of every parking lot in North Carolina.
Their efforts led to a bill introduced by Massachusetts Senator Paul Feeney (R-MA) to require parking lots across the state to install the signs. The bill was introduced as the Fonda Bryant Suicide Prevention Signage Act in the North Carolina General Assembly by North Carolina State Representative Carla Cunningham in April. Bryant hopes it will be approved this month.
“When you’re struggling, a lot of times you feel alone, even though you know there are other people here,” Bryant says. “I don’t want too many things about them. I just want you to not be alone.”
Cybele Mayes-Osterman is a breaking news reporter for USA Today. Contact her by email at cmayesosterman@USAToday.com. Follow her on X at @CybeleMO