Recognizing the Signs of Suicide

September 9, 2019

Clinical Contributors to this Story

Jacqueline Bienenstock, DNP, RN-BC contributes to topics such as Behavioral Health.

Every year, suicide takes the lives of almost 45,000 Americans, making it one of the leading causes of death in the U.S. That’s why every September, individuals and organizations alike work to raise awareness of suicide prevention as a part of National Suicide Prevention Month.

A vital part of suicide prevention is understanding warning signs, symptoms and how to help. Anyone can get trained in CPR to assist someone following a heart attack; the same is needed for those in a mental health crisis.

Mental Health First Aid

Mental Health First Aid is a national program offered at Hackensack Meridian Health Carrier Clinic that teaches the five core steps to saving a person in a crisis.

“The Mental Health First Aid program teaches how to recognize signs and symptoms, and how to intervene, because not knowing this can be very uncomfortable,” says Jacqueline Bienenstock, DNP, RN-BC, director of the psychiatric acute care unit at Carrier Clinic. “The person having the crisis is at their lowest point. You want to do everything you can to help them.”

The Mental Health First Aid classes promote skills for coping with stress, stress self-awareness, the use of journaling to express one’s concerns and fears, and support groups to encourage sharing among the students.

“We attempt to decrease the stigma of mental illness—that it is not unlike a physical illness. Both are treated with medications, for example, and all types of people suffer from mental illness, from doctors to lawyers to engineers and other professionals,” Jacqueline says. “We want people to know there is help and no one is alone.”

The five steps for Mental Health First Aid are:

  1. Assess for risk of suicide or harm. Recognize warning signs, including threatening to hurt or kill oneself, talking about death or suicide, engaging in risky activities, increased use of drugs or alcohol, and dramatic mood changes.
  2. Listen nonjudgmentally. Help the person feel understood and accepted by listening. Reinforce that through open body posture and eye contact.
  3. Give reassurance and information. Recognize that mental illness is a real, treatable illness, and never blame the person for their symptoms.
  4. Encourage appropriate professional help. Support the person in reaching out to a professional, whether that is a doctor, social worker, counselor or other mental health professional.
  5. Encourage self-help and other support strategies. In addition to suggesting professional help, support the person in exercise, meditation, peer support groups and social activities.

Hackensack Meridian Health offers classes on Mental Health First Aid. Classes typically run from 8:30 a.m.–5 p.m. on Saturdays. Each class can accommodate as many as 15 people. The cost is $25 per person, but the fee can be waived in certain instances.

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.