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Photo of Deb Gau Dr William Del Monte said being able to ask if someone is thinking about suicide is an important first step in getting help.

MARSHALL – For many people, suicide can be an uncomfortable subject to discuss. But talking about it could help save lives, behavioral health staff at Avera Marshall said.

September is Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month, and Avera Health System has launched a campaign encouraging people to “Ask the question” when someone shows signs of thinking about suicide.

“The first step is to educate them and then direct them to the right person who can help them,” said Dr. William Del Monte, psychiatrist at Avera Medical Group.

Asking if a person is thinking about suicide is a crucial part of that first step, said Del Monte and Denae Winter, assistant chief nurse and director of inpatient services at Avera Marshall Behavioral Health.

“I think we’re going to find that we can help more people by asking the question directly,” said winter.

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control, suicide is the second leading cause of death among people aged 10 to 34. It is also the eighth leading cause of death in Minnesota. The number of suicide deaths in the state has increased between 2020 and 2021, Winter said.

“I think we’ve all seen the changes that have happened during COVID and after COVID,” said winter.

During the pandemic, many people did not have access to their normal sources of support, Del Monte said. In addition to social isolation during the pandemic, life changes and economic stress have all impacted the mental health of Minnesotans.

However, there are resources that can help when someone shows signs of suicidal thoughts. That’s one of the reasons it’s important to ask the question, Del Monte said.

“We believe this is a preventable cause of death,” he said.

Winter said asking about suicide directly doesn’t plant the idea in a person’s mind. In fact, being able to have an honest conversation can be a relief, she said.

“Most people, if they think about it, it relieves the pressure of, ‘How am I going to bring this up and relate to someone?'” said winter. “If we can be comfortable, and if people in our community can be comfortable asking that question if we see someone struggling, I think we can help more people that way.”

As a member of “Ask the question” campaign, Avera encourages people to speak up and get help if they see signs that someone may be attempting suicide. Warning signs may include a person expressing hopelessness or feeling trapped, loss of interest in things they used to enjoy, changes in behavior, or increased use of alcohol or drugs.

There are resources available for people who might be thinking about suicide. People can call or text 988 for immediate help, or go to their local emergency service. They can also call Avera Behavioral Health’s emergency care number, 800-691-4336, to help them find behavioral health services that are right for them.

If a person is not in crisis, but is still seeking information about behavioral health services, they can also call Avera Behavioral Health Navigation at 605-322-5142. Winter said behavioral health navigation can help people know where to go to get the services they need.

The “Ask the question” The campaign, which was funded by donors to the Avera Foundation, is one way for area health care providers to try to raise awareness and help prevent suicide. Winter said the campaign focused on different ways to get the message across, from advertising in different markets to using TikTok and social media to reach teens.

More information, including tip sheets on how to “Ask the question” and suicide prevention information, are available online at the Avera website. People can find out more at www.avera.org/AskTheQuestion.

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