Knowing the signs of suicide … and the misconceptions

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Throughout the month, Barton Health has partnered with local behavioral health providers and experts to share research and insight on suicide, a topic that can be hard to discuss.

Suicide is a public health issue that impacts everyone. For some of us, we are reminded of suicide daily. Yet, it is important to know that suicide can be prevented.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide is one of the top 10 causes of death in the United States. The leading reason for suicide is unmanaged depression or a mood disorder. Considering that 20 to 25 percent of Americans are affected by depression, it is important to know the signs that may help save someone's life.

While symptoms of depression typically manifest and peak during the 20s, it is not uncommon to experience a first depressive episode later in life. Major life changing events and other unexpected tragedies can also cause helplessness and hopelessness, which can lead to suicide.

The first step in preventing suicide is recognizing when you or someone you love may be at risk of depression. Although our experiences differ, possible risk factors include:

Sad mood most days

Loss of interest or pleasure in most activities

Changes in appetite and weight loss

Low energy, lethargy, and fatigue

Too much or too little sleep

Low self-esteem and worthlessness

Trouble concentrating and making decisions

Irritability and agitation

Slower movements and speech

Reoccurring thoughts about death or suicide

Unmanaged or untreated depression increases the risk of self-harm and suicide. Signs that you or a loved one may be experiencing a sense of hopelessness or helplessness:

Feeling desperate or stuck

Frequently irritable or angry

Sudden or rapid mood changes

Reckless or apathetic behavior

Increased drug or alcohol use

Poor self-care and hygiene

Not following a treatment plan or attending appointments

Lacking meaning or purpose in life

Withdrawal and isolation

Giving away possessions and making final plans

Talking about wanting to die and developing a plan

If you recognize these symptoms, it is important to understand some common misconceptions about depression. This helps you or a loved one access the treatment needed with less stigma. Depression is not:

Overreacting or being overly emotional

Something that you just "get over"

Laziness or a choice

A weakness or character flaw

All in your head

In no particular order, the following are possible treatment interventions for preventing the act of self-harm and suicide:

Establish regular care with a primary care provider or physician

Request a medication evaluation by a psychiatrist

Participate in psychotherapy with a trained behavioral health professional

Follow and actively participate in a treatment plan

Build a supportive family and social network

Actively maintain a sense of purpose and meaning in life

Keep the brain active by learning something new

Make time to play and move the body

It is important to communicate that suicide can be prevented. It requires involvement from family, friends, the community, and the public health system.

If you recognize that you or someone you love is in distress, offer compassion, encouragement, and resources for seeking support. Attend a suicide prevention training or consider free or low-cost community workshops, including Mental Health First Aid and Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training.

If you or a loved one is experiencing a mental or behavioral health emergency, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. You can also dial 911 and request a behavioral health welfare check or go to the local hospital's emergency department.

Healthy Tahoe is a look at health-related topics that shape our community and is made possible through content provided by our sponsors.

Compassion satisfaction

Those of us prone to experiencing compassion satisfaction work in helping professions such as teaching, nursing and social work. Compassion satisfaction, identified as the gratification we experience from helping others, is often achieved when we, as caregivers, develop an emotional and physical balance within our personal and professional lives.

In addition to fulfilling our professional caregiving roles, we often display caregiving qualities and empathy toward our friends and family. As a result, we may begin to experience compassion fatigue as well, described as burnout or secondary traumatic stress. In order to attain and sustain compassion satisfaction, it is also necessary to have an understanding of how to recognize, prevent, and reduce compassion fatigue.

When feeling fatigued, burned out, and affected by traumatic stress, we are likely to experience apathy in our personal and professional connections, dissatisfaction in our jobs, difficulty separating our job from our personal lives, unhealthy choices and risk-taking behaviors, more mistakes or low productiveness at work, chronic fatigue and depression, feelings of being stuck and isolated, as well as unhelpful intrusive and repetitive thoughts.

On the other hand, when we are satisfied in our professional and personal lives, we are likely to experience feelings of success and a sense of wellbeing, motivation and a desire to complete our job responsibilities, the ability to let go of work at the end of the day, rejuvenation from helping others, a meaningful connection in our relationships, less effort setting healthy boundaries, as well as time and energy to engage self-care.

There are several strategies for developing awareness of and monitoring our wellness in caregiving roles, including, gauging energy levels throughout the day, the quality of our relationships with others, our job satisfaction and performance, the strength of our self-image and feelings of success, our ability to follow through with self-care activities, our immunity and resilience against stress, as well as our limits and boundaries between work and personal lives.

When we recognize the potential for burnout and traumatic stress, it's necessary to activate wellness strategies, which may protect us, our relationships and our career.

Strategies for building wellness and resilience against stress include:

Taking regular breaks from your caregiving role

Participating in activities that fill you up

Prioritizing self-care (exercise, eating healthy, sleeping, etc.)

Connecting with friends, family, and community

Identifying and setting limits

Knowing and investing in your values

Practicing mindfulness and completing one task at a time

Processing the impact of stress while staying solution focused

Tapping into your creative side

Most importantly, seeking professional support when the secondary traumatic stress is causing impairments in your wellness.

More information about compassion satisfaction and fatigue is available through the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project at In addition, you may find several measures for assessing your compassion satisfaction and risk factors on this site, under their resources, along with suggested readings on how to build wellness.

Professional and community support resources can be located in the Barton Health Community Resource Directory, located throughout Barton facilities. If you're experiencing a mental health emergency, please call the 24-hour crisis line at 800-929-1955 or 530-544-2219, go to your local emergency room, or call 911 and request a welfare check.

Healthy Tahoe is a look at health-related topics that shape our community and is made possible through content provided by our sponsors.