Being alert for cues, so you can 'Save A Life'

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"Suicidal thoughts and behaviors can impact anyone," says Theresa Erbacher, Ph.D., of the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.

For that reason, we all need to be aware of who might be at risk for suicide, and be ready to help.

Dr. Erbacher is also a board member of the Philadelphia Chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, which holds its annual Save A Life gala on Saturday, Jan. 7, at the Curtis Center, 601 Walnut St.

This year, the group honors mental health advocate Kevin Hines with its Lifesaver of the Year Award, and presents it first-ever Young Friend of AFSP award to Philadelphia's Andrew Bergman.

Hines is author of a bestselling memoir on his survival from a suicide attempt, while Bergman is Associate Development Director for Minding Your Mind, which works on suicide prevention on the high school and college level.

Dr. Erbacher says the post-holiday period can be a critical time for those struggling with mental illness.

"Those suffering often go to vast lengths to hide what they are going through. It is therefore important, especially over these winter months when people tend to hibernate, to look for behavioral cues that someone might be experiencing depression or distress," she notes.

Among the most common signs: changes in behavior or personality, decreased performance at work or school, changes in sleeping or eating patterns, and deteriorating self-care.

It's also not uncommon for those under duress to withdraw from social activities, or not feel the enjoyment in them they once did.

While the changes may each seem small, Dr. Erbacher says together they may form a pattern, which needs attention before it becomes a crisis.

She says there is a large red flag not to ignore - feelings of hopelessness, or that the world would be better if they weren't around.

Nationally, there has been a significant shift in suicide risk.

Fifteen years ago, the elderly population faced the greatest risk, but now, the highest rates are between 25 and 64 years of age.

"We do know that there are some populations at greater risk, such as veterans and police officers, those with chronic health or mental health conditions, those with drug or alcohol dependence, those who have suffered trauma, as well as those who identify as GLBTQ," says Dr. Erbacher.

More and better treatments are available, however, the challenge is to recognize when a person is in need, and get them prompt treatment.

If you have concerns about a loved one, let them know you are a safe person, and willing to listen.

"The best way to do this is to ask the question directly, 'Are you thinking about suicide?

"This then opens the door for an honest conversation about suicide, and lets the person in distress know you are not afraid to discuss it," says Dr. Erbacher.

She adds, "Talking about suicide just might save a person's life."

For more information on the Save A Life Gala, including tickets, CLICK HERE..

To learn more about suicide prevention, and the work of the Philadelphia AFSP, CLICK HERE.

If you or someone you know is in distress, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number is available 24/7 at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

There is also a 24-hour online crisis chat service available at http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

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