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The Rev. Jim Stewart, right, and his wife, Sylvia, walk past some of the 600 crosses put up outside St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church on Friday, Sept. 8, 2017, in Cheyenne. They are the same crosses the Cheyenne Veterans Affairs Medical Center placed along its fence in 2016 to represent the 20 veterans a day that commit suicide. Wyoming Tribune Eagle/file

CHEYENNE – “Everyone can do something in suicide prevention.”

Those words came from Terresa Humphries-Wadsworth, a Cody resident who serves as associate project director with the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, in remarks Thursday to attendees at the Wyoming Suicide Prevention Symposium at Little America Hotel and Resort.

The event was hosted by the Wyoming Department of Health.

“Each of you has been given talent, has been given strengths, has been given gifts that you might take for granted, like walking, that you can use for suicide prevention,” said Humphries-Wadsworth, who walked from Cody to Cheyenne in 2017 to bring attention to the issue. “Maybe it’s your physical ability. Maybe it’s your leadership skills, your organizational skills, your emotional intelligence. Maybe you make cookies or fix cars. Those things can be used to advance suicide prevention. You will make a difference.”

In her role with the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, Humphries-Wadsworth provides technical assistance, consultation and support focused on suicide prevention among military service members, veterans and their families. She also serves as an associate project director for the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention, the nation’s public-private partnership for suicide prevention.

Humphries-Wadsworth pointed out that in 2017 – the latest available data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – there were 47,173 reported suicide deaths in the U.S. But she added that many more people survive their suicidal thoughts – 750,000 required hospitalization, 1.3 million attempts required medical attention and 12.6 million people seriously considered suicide, but didn’t take their own life.

“This is the opportunity,” Humphries-Wadsworth said. “This is where we do our work. These are the individuals we want to catch so they do not progress to ending their life.”

In Wyoming, the suicide rate increased from 17 deaths per 100,000 in 2004 to 25.4 in 2018. However, Humphries-Wadsworth pointed out that the suicide rate in Wyoming looks to be decreasing since last year.

“We want to continue that pattern down,” she said.

How do you do that?

“The individual is where most people focus their suicide prevention efforts – on saving people who are on the brink of dying by suicide, and absolutely we need to do that,” she said.

But Humphries-Watsworth said suicide prevention efforts should also include people that have relationships with the individual.

“They are family members,” she said. “There are co-workers – people in the workplace who recognize that they’re just not doing well, but don’t know how to step up and say something.”

The more warning signs a person shows, the higher risk of suicide. Some warning signs can include:

  • Talking about wanting to die
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
  • Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
  • Acting anxious, agitated or recklessly
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Displaying extreme mood swings

If a person is exhibiting the above signs, and you suspect they may be suicidal:

  • Do not leave the person alone.
  • Remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt.
  • Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255).
  • Take the person to an emergency room, or seek help from a medical or mental health professional.

The Veterans Crisis Line and Military Crisis Line connect veterans and service members in crisis and their families and friends with qualified U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs responders through a confidential toll-free hotline. Call 800-273-TALK (8255) and press 1, text 838255 or visit the online chat at www.veteranscrisisline.net to access it.

Another challenge for medical professionals, Humphries-Watsworth said, is when patients present physical symptoms at their primary care doctor that instead could be signs of a mental health problem.

“When people present at their primary care doctor because they’re having stomach problems or headaches or they’re just not right, it might actually mean that they’re having a mental health problem, but don’t know how to articulate that or feel safe enough to say something.”

Primary care doctors should screen for mental health problems, she said, just as they would take a blood pressure, temperature and vital signs.

“Your mental health is a vital sign,” she said.

And a mindset change from stigma, prejudice and bias against people who are suicidal, as well as from people who believe that committing or attempting suicide are “selfish,” is also needed, she said.

“If you’ve ever been in deep pain, whether from a car accident, injury, post-surgery, something where you’re not getting pain medicine, you understand that that consumes your attention, and psychological pain is no different,” she said.

Steve Knight is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s local government reporter. He can be reached at 307-633-3182 or sknight@wyomingnews.com.

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