SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) – In the last five years, nearly 240 people in Chatham County have died by suicide, according to data from the state health department. 

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month and local health professionals are working to raise awareness and break the stigma surrounding mental health.

Psychiatrists with Gateway Behavioral Health say changes in daily behavior, isolation, sadness and appetite loss can be warning signs that someone may be having thoughts of suicide. 

If you see those signs in someone you know, experts say to check in with them.

“A very common misconception about suicide and mental health, in general, is that if you ask someone it’s going to make them more likely to harm themselves, take their own life,” said Dr. Carolyn Akin. “In reality, it’s not. It actually builds the feeling of connectedness that makes them want to engage and stay and continue.”

Doctors want people to know there is no shame in seeking help from a mental health professional.

“A lot of times there’s a stigma about mental illness,” said Dr. Kristen Williams. “But, if you had diabetes and you had some other medical crisis going on you wouldn’t be ashamed to see your doctor and talk about it.”

Health professionals say they have seen a rise in mental health difficulties, including depression and anxiety, over the course of the pandemic. 

“In the era of the pandemic, everyone can kind of relate to the fact that it’s very easy to kind of feel isolated and alone and how quickly those feelings can progress,” said Dr. Akin.

Vira Salzburn, program director of Prevent Suicide Today, said there has also been an increase in mental health difficulties among high school students, young African-American men and veterans. 

In Chatham County, suicide is one of the leading causes of death in people ages 10-44, according to data from the state health department. 

“Suicide prevention is everybody’s business,” said Salzburn. “It really takes a village to prevent suicide. We usually say that it takes a village to save a child from suicide. And each of us is that child and all of us are that village.”

Prevent Suicide Today offers prevention programs, as well as intervention training. Since 2017, more than 13,000 community members – including school district staff – have received intervention training from the organization, Salzburn said.

Salzburn encourages those who are struggling with mental health to connect with others.

“What really led me to this work is a deep understanding of loneliness and how isolation and shame can really create darkness and emptiness in our hearts,” she said. “We really want to spread hope and let people know that you are not alone and help is available.”

The Gateway Behavioral Health Crisis Center on E. Derenne Ave. is open 24/7, offering crisis response to people of all ages.

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by dialing 9-8-8 or 800-273-8255. You can also call the Georgia Crisis and Access Line at 1-800-715-4225.