BUFFALO, N.Y. — It's a catch-22.
Suicide and mental health awareness are topics that make so many uncomfortable and yet, according to Google trends in the wake of the deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, it's all anyone can search online.
Even Buffalo's Crisis Services is seeing an uptick.
“We definitely saw some more calls that were more suicide-related on Friday after the Anthony Bourdain news,” said Crisis Service CEO Jessica Pirro.
Pirro and Celia Spacone, Ph.D. of the Suicide Prevention Coalition of Erie County, sat down with Spectrum News to talk more about the issue.
Q: I think a big topic of discussion following the deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain was, “How could they be depressed? They seemed to ‘have it all.’” Could you speak to that misconception?
Spacone: "Depression, mental illness, suicide, cross all boundaries; they cross socioeconomic boundaries, it crosses racial boundaries, age. So it can be anybody."
Q: Seeing that seems to be a big indicator that we need to openly discuss mental health more often, right? Not just directly following a high-profile death.
Pirro: “Right. It needs to be continuous conversation, not a response conversation.”
Q: It’s also key to choose the language we use when describing suicide and mental health, very carefully. Can you explain why?
Spacone: “It’s important to talk about someone ‘dying by suicide’ rather than ‘committing suicide,’ which sounds like commitment to an institution. I don’t like to use the term ‘successful suicide’ because we don’t see that as successful. And then somebody who serves says, ‘oh, I wasn’t even successful at killing myself.’ Successful is living.”
Q: What are some risk factors or warning signs people should be aware of?
Pirro: “If you know your loved one has that mental illness [that’s more susceptible to suicidal thoughts], that regular check-in, even when they seem like they’re OK is important. Other risk factors are if an individual has lost a friend or family member to suicide.”
Spacone: “A change in behavior, somebody with poor sleep or eating habits changing dramatically, giving away possessions, talking about, 'oh, they'd be better off without me.'"
Q: I know that initiating that “check-in” conversation can be daunting for some. What’s the best way to do it?
Spacone: “’I noticed that you’re staying in, you’re not taking care of yourself and I’m just wondering if everything is OK?’ [It’s] a simple thing like that. Tell them what you notice and ask them if they're OK. And the biggest thing you do is you listen."
Q: What services does Crisis Services offer for someone who needs help?
Pirro: "I would encourage people to know the Crisis Service hotline, its open 24 hours a day; 716-834-3131 is the number. I think one of the things I would like to clarify too for the community is that it is a crisis hotline, but you don’t have to be in full-blown crisis to call. So we do a lot of supportive counseling with community members who are really struggling or having a hard time dealing with a situation or an experience, as well as a lot of consultations with family and friends."
Q: Is there anything else you think people should know?
Pirro: “We have something called the Anti-Stigma Coalition for Erie County and it’s made of 16 different agencies, Crisis Services being one of them, that have come together to talk about stigma, because we feel that people aren’t going to reach out for help if there’s still stigma. There’s actually a pledge that we’re encouraging people to take about how they talk about mental illness and talk about mental health.”
To learn more about the coalition and its pledge, click here.
Anyone who wants to learn more about Crisis Services can click here.