Psychology isn’t only for the afflicted or differently abled. It is for anyone who wishes to feel happier and find fulfillment in life. The World Health Organization1 defines mental and emotional well-being in four capacities:
These behaviors compose mental health in the same way our nutrition, exercise, sleep, and defenses make up our physical health. Mental illnesses create obstacles in the pursuit of wellness. Often, treatment interventions involve managing obstacles and learning skills to live a fruitful life, whether or not a person manages a mental illness.
Information about mental health and well-being is more accessible than ever before, but many people are reluctant to admit they are unhappy or unwell. Negative stigma and misperceptions of mental health conditions leave people afraid to ask for help.
From a public health perspective, there are three degrees of suicide prevention: primary (understanding the cause), secondary (intervening in active suicidal behavior to limit injury), and tertiary (crisis intervention after a suicide attempt.)
Primary preventions aim at shrinking the factors that increase risk of crisis and expanding factors that help people learn, cope, and develop resilience. Expanding mental health education and resources is a primary prevention, as it normalizes psychological wellness and reduces negative stigma that prevents individuals from seeking help. Individual therapy is also a primary prevention, if sought early.
Many people are not aware that mental health resources are widely available. It is estimated that 90% of people who die by suicide were suffering from depression or a similar mental illness at the time of their death.
Always take warning signs seriously, and never promise to keep them secret. Parents, school personnel, and peers can recognize the warning signs and should take immediate action to keep the person safe.
The National Council for Behavioral Health3 has developed a series of 8-hour courses that teach people how to identify, understand, and respond to a mental health crisis. Mental Health First Aid provides an action plan for starting conversations about mental health and substance use problems. The core tenets of any mental health intervention are to connect, communicate, and care. The 5-Step plan, ALGEE, teaches what to do and how to do it.
ASK – LISTEN - GIVE – ENCOURAGE - EDUCATE
Ask: Approach, assess, and assist the individual in sharing their thoughts and feelings. Ask them, “have you ever thought about hurting yourself or taking your own life?”
Listen: Listen with undivided attention. Allow silence. Do not deny how they are feeling, and do not evaluate or judge. Instead, acknowledge and let them know you understand.
Give: Give the individual your support and offer information that may help manage immediate obstacles.
Encourage: Encourage them to seek professional help and offer assistance.
Educate: Encourage education about mental health, self-help, and other therapeutic resources.
You can find a Mental Health First Aid certification course near you at www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org/take-a-course
Mental wellness is as important as physical wellness.
If you or someone you know are in crisis, call the toll-free National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL) at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), available to everyone, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The deaf and hard of hearing can contact the lifeline via TTY at 1-800-799-4889. Dial 911 in an emergency. Learn more at: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/