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Our Mental Health is Part of the Public Health Emergency

By Jacki Post Ashkin, MSW, LCSW-C

One in four young adults has struggled with suicidal thoughts since the coronavirus hit, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). One in four. It is a staggering and frightening reality.

As the new year began, we learned of the suicide death of Tommy Raskin, the 25-year-old son of Congressman Jamie Raskin and his wife, Sarah. The Raskin family’s powerful public statement about the death of their precious son, including their open acknowledgement of his struggles with depression, reminds us that those painful thoughts and feelings of hopelessness can become overwhelming and lead to heartbreaking tragedy.

Rates of suicide have been rising rapidly over the past two decades. In fact, in 2018, suicide was ranked as the second leading cause of death among 10-to-34-year olds and the fourth leading cause of death among people between the ages of 35 and 54. The uncertainty, stress, isolation, and economic pressures of COVID-19 have added layers on top of the pre-existing challenges to our emotional wellbeing, leading some experts to refer to a growing mental health epidemic as part of our nation’s current public health emergency.

During a November press conference, Dr. David Marcozzi, a top medical adviser to Governor Hogan on COVID-19, became overcome by emotion. “This virus doesn’t just affect us physically, it affects us mentally,” he said. “This has hit me personally, as I’ve lost a friend to suicide in this pandemic.” He urged us to support one another; to reach out and stay connected.

So, what can we do that might help prevent someone we care about from ending their life?

Be aware of some key risk factors of suicide: 

  • Depression, severe anxiety, or another mental health condition 
  • Alcohol or drug abuse 
  • Traumatic experiences – recent or past 
  • Losses that hit hard (relationships, jobs, serious illness) 
  • Barriers to finding and receiving mental health treatment 
  • Past suicidal behavior or family history of suicide 

Notice changes in their behavior. Do they seem down, or agitated, or just not themselves? Do they seem to be withdrawing from people or activities? Are they using drugs or alcohol more? Are they talking about life being hard or hopeless?

If you are concerned about someone, tell them. Talk to them and be direct. Ask them if they have had thoughts about hurting themselves or ending their life. It is a misconception bringing up the subject of suicide will put the idea in someone’s head. In fact, by asking the question, you may be opening the door for a conversation that offers a pathway to getting help, which could potentially save their life.

Tell them you care and that together you can find help. Share contact information for resources like the mental health center at Jewish Community Services (JCS) 410-466-9200, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 800-273-Talk (8255), and the Maryland 2-1-1 helpline (dial 2-1-1).

Sadly, sometimes, as Congressman and Mrs. Raskin noted about Tommy’s battle with depression, you can do everything possible to help someone you care about and they still choose to end their life. That leaves their loved ones in crisis, making it vital that those loved ones get the help and support they need. Support groups and caring therapists like those at JCS can help family and friends cope with the very great loss. 

We extend our deepest condolences to the Raskin family and to all the families who have lost loved ones.

JCS Mental Health and Psychiatry Services are accredited by the Council on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Services (CARF) and licensed by the State of Maryland.

JCS offers a monthly Suicide Loss Survivors Group to provide people who have experienced the death of a loved one by suicide the opportunity to share and process their grief with others who have had a similar loss, get guidance and support from a grief specialist, and learn coping strategies. The group, which is free and open to the public, meets the second Thursday of each month via Zoom from 7:00 – 8:30 pm. For more information, contact Donna Kane, Grief Clinician, at 410-843-7394 / dkane@jcsbaltimore.org.

JCS Health Educators are certified instructors of the QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) three-step model of suicide prevention that can train anyone – teens, young adults, parents, teachers, counselors, nurses – to recognize the warning signs of a suicide crisis and teach them how to question, persuade, and refer someone to help. If you are interested in having JCS facilitate a training for your school or organization, request information here and one of our Health Educators will follow up with you.

Management Staff - Jewish Community ServicesJacki Post Ashkin, MSW, LCSW-C is Director of Community Connections at Jewish Community Services 

JCS is a comprehensive human services organization providing a broad range of services that meet the diverse, multi-dimensional needs of individuals and families throughout Central Maryland. To learn more, visit jcsbalt.org or call 410-466-9200.  

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