Michelle Rupp: Ladeana Bell joins us now. Ladeana, you work here at AFMC. You have not only a passion for mental health, but you’re a licensed psychological exam examiner.

Ladeana Bell: Yes.

MR: Okay, wow, that’s a fancy title.

LB: Well, you know, it’s basically a master’s level psychologist, but there aren’t that many of us anymore. So yeah, but I’ve been doing this for a long time, a very long time.

MR: Well, as you well know, September is suicide prevention and awareness month. And so, we’re dedicating today’s show. We just heard from Ken Clark, a family therapist, talking about mental health and how that’s really kind of on the forefront of people’s minds now. But let’s talk about the suicide rate. What are we seeing from the pandemic? First of all, has the number of suicides risen during the pandemic.

LB: You know, Michelle, I’m really glad you asked that because we don’t have the finalized data yet on the 2020 numbers. The preliminary data says that there was actually a decrease which is very counterintuitive.

MR: Yes, very counterintuitive.

LB: And I don’t want to send the message that that’s the final numbers because we’re just waiting, but some initial studies show a decrease. Now, I want to say that if you’re a family member, a friend that’s lost someone, it doesn’t matter what those statistics say.

MR: Right? I’m curious because we often see it on social media, and people just say it, if you’re having trouble, reach out. Just reach out. And we probably all know someone who is so trapped that they can’t reach out. They’d love to. Maybe their reach out is canceling on girls’ night out or guys’ night out three times in a row, but no one’s picking up on that. Is that correct thinking? And how do you advise friends when they start noticing a friend just isn’t around as much? Like when do you, as a friend, take that ownership and say, hey, what’s going on?

LB: I think that noticing, first of all, I like that word because if someone’s behavior changes and they become more withdrawn, and you pick up on that. It’s okay to ask them, not just, “are you okay?” Because they may say, “I’m tired. I just don’t feel like it.” But coming out and asking the question, you know, “I’ve noticed that things are different. You haven’t been coming around, do you need any help?” or even asking someone, “are you thinking about suicide?” I wouldn’t just jump there in the middle of a random conversation, but you are so right that the messaging we hear is just to reach out. There’s help. Hold on. There’s hope. That’s all true. However, when someone becomes almost paralyzed with depression or paralyzed with their internal thoughts, it’s very hard sometimes to pick up the phone and say I need help. Or pick up the phone and call a therapist. So, someone they know and trust kind of bridges that gap for them that can be a real lifesaver.

MR: So, what can friends say?

LB: Um, “Michelle, I’ve noticed that you haven’t been at the last three book club meetings, and I care about you, and I just want to know, really honestly, are you okay? And if you’re not, I just want you to tell me because I care about you so much.”

MR: That’s good. And so then, as that person, assuming that person begins to be vulnerable and starts opening up at what point as a friend because sometimes all we need is someone to just listen to us. But is there a point where it kind of crosses over the friend threshold, and as that friend you’re thinking, okay, there’s more here than what I’m qualified to listen to?

LB: Right. Well, and I always want to tell people that, you know, suicide prevention is everybody’s business. So, it’s not just the mental health professionals’ business or the psychiatrist’s business. It’s all of our business. However, I don’t feel like you have to be a trained therapist and take on that role. So, I would say, number one, normalize mental health, like if you know someone else who went to counseling or you know, or you did yourself? I mean, that’s a great icebreaker. But just letting them know there is help, and I always encourage friends and family members to go on afsp.org or suicidelifeline.org that talks about the signs and symptoms, and then telling your friend, you know, sometimes it helps to talk to somebody else. We all have struggles, and seeking help is a sign of strength. Having that conversation already reduces some of the stigmas because then they may be relieved that somebody goes okay. I’m struggling, and it’s not just that I’m tired, it’s that I’m really in a dark place, and now Michelle’s seen it, and she didn’t run away, but she wants me to get the help that I need, as my friend.

MR: My last question just in our last 30 seconds, if there has been a history of suicide in the family, whether it was a parent, a grandparent, a sibling, those that are still that remain, those that are still living here in that family, are they at a higher risk? What’s their risk? And would some of them think, “well, this is how my mom, dad, brother, sister, grandma, decided to end their story? I guess that’s my path.”

LB: Those kinds of thoughts definitely can happen. And we do know from research that people that have lost a family member to suicide are at higher risk of completing suicide. So again, if that’s happened in someone’s family, I encourage them to reach out to look at the resources. There are survivors’ groups that are still going on during the pandemic. People can go on the AFSP website, and there are survivors’ groups. But just knowing that, okay, even if I’ve never thought about that, maybe now I’m going to be thinking about it, so I need to, what do we need to do? Take care of our health, and that’s part of our health. Is our mental health okay?

MR: Alright. Ladeana, thank you so much! Thank you for coming in and having this conversation with us. I appreciate you for having the conversation. It was a good one. Thank you very much.