If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, call 988, the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — The week of Sept. 10 to 16 is National Suicide Prevention Week, and with suicide rates on the rise since the pandemic, awareness is paramount.

“I know here in Savannah, we have a large population that suffers from mental illness and or substance abuse,” said Cpl. Julie Cavanaugh with the Behavioral Health Unit of the Savannah Police Department.

In 2022, there were 49,499 suicide deaths in the country, a 2.6% increase from 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I know we’re not getting to absolutely everyone and think that a brighter light should be shined on mental health awareness,” Cavanaugh said.

Identify warning signs

Many of us do not want to pry into the business of others going through a hard time, but knowing the initial warning signs is a start.

“They haven’t shown up to work in a few days, they’re acting strange, spending money erratically, giving away prized possessions is what we call decompensating,” said Cavanaugh.

Declines in hygiene, sleeping more and eating less are some additional signs to look out for before reaching out.

Rip off the band-aid

“Oftentimes, people are scared to ask loved ones if they’re thinking about suicide because I think that it will make that person suicidal, but in actuality, the more the community talks about it removes the stigma,” said Mary Jo Horton, behavioral health manager at Memorial Health.

When asking someone if they plan to commit suicide, being direct is the best plan of action.

“Don’t give them an out to not answer the question truthfully,” said Cavanaugh.

For example: “Are you planning to kill yourself? Are you planning to commit
suicide?” are more definitive questions than asking, “You don’t want to harm yourself, do you?”

If you don’t feel comfortable asking those questions or following up, reach out to the SPD Behavioral Health Unit by phone or email.

“Our goal is to divert people from jail and get them into the much-needed services,” said Cavanaugh.

COVID and mental health

Since the pandemic, the National Institute of Mental Health found that suicide among youth has been on the rise.

“Ever since COVID started, when people were forced out of their norms and not getting the social interaction that all human beings need,” said Cavanaugh.

Although three years out, the scars of lost communication and isolation persist.

To combat this issue, there needs to be more dialogue around mental health and education to equip people with the tools to know and truly feel their emotions.

“It’s teaching kids how to explain how they feel on what to do when they’re distressed,” said Horton. “If we don’t learn it the same way that we learn our alphabet and math and all of those things, it’s always gonna be something difficult to catch up to later on.”