Start A Conversation. Save A Life.

Depression can be a difficult topic, whether it’s a loved one, a neighbor or a colleague who is suffering. Often it’s neglected or avoided in conversation. With the passing of celebrities Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, the discussion of mental health has made its way to the public forum more than ever before. It rings true that depression can quietly affect anyone.

Suicide claims over 950 lives per year in Tennessee according to Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network (TPSN). In order to show support and highlight existing resources for those suffering, it’s critical for the discussion on mental health across Tennessee to begin. When was the last time you had a conversation with your family about depression, suicide, and the warning signs, asks Scott Ridgeway, Executive Director for the Montgomery County Task Force at the Tennessee Suicide Prevention Network.

TSPN is working hard to not only spread awareness throughout the state, but also challenge the stigma surrounding mental health so those suffering from depression may feel more comfortable or hopeful in getting the help they need. TSPN brings awareness to suicide prevention across the state of Tennessee through education, evidence-based curriculum offered through their workshops, social media usage, and in-person outreach efforts at almost 400 events statewide just last year.

Those struggling with depression may feel they have no one to turn to or may feel uncomfortable discussing it for fear of judgement. “The number one risk factor for suicide is undiagnosed depression,” Ridgeway said, and he states that “Over 80% of people who die by suicide have not sought help through a mental health center.” Ridgeway says the best way to overcome the stigma surrounding mental health is to have conversations about it whether you know someone who is affected or not.

Recently Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps opened up about his personal struggle with depression, and he currently appears on commercials promoting therapy as a resource for depression. This is a huge step towards banishing the stigma surrounding mental health.

“Information is the greatest asset in the campaign of suicide prevention, and the best way to educate yourself is to learn the warning signs of depression,” says Ridgeway.

Possible behavioral patterns that might indicate the possible risk for suicide include withdrawing from friends or social activities; a loss of interest in hobbies, work or school; loss of interest in personal appearance, and talking about suicide and death. TSPN provides a complete list of warning signs on their website, TSPN will also visit your community, church, or school to provide a free suicide prevention training on how to spot signs of depression and the proper course of action to correctly handle situations. Request forms may be found on their website.

After equipping yourself with the necessary information on how to spot signs of depression, a conversation may begin. Seeing these signs in a loved one can be alarming. “We might shy away from asking the question ‘are you thinking about suicide?’ because we’re afraid of what the answer will be,” said Ridgeway. “But it’s crucial to not only ask, but also offer empathy and support for an individual suffering from depression..”

Ridgeway encourages family members to show empathy by asking what may be done to help the suffering individual. “We want to encourage friends and family members to listen, not to judge, and to try to understand that they may not know what their loved one is going through, but they are there to support them in any way,” said Ridgeway.

Veterans have a higher rate of suicide than the average American as veterans account for 18% of all deaths by suicide among U.S. adults, according to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs. TSPN offers Veteran-specific resources which include a 24-hour hotline with counselors specially trained to take calls from military veterans, and contact information for local Veteran Centers and Suicide Prevention Coordinators in Tennessee and Kentucky. The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs also offers a confidential 24-hour crisis line.

Tennessee has taken a direct approach to combating suicide through passing a bill that requires teachers and staff across Tennessee to attend an annual suicide prevention training session. Tennessee is the only state that requires all school staff, including bus drivers, to attend the two-hour training. Additionally, every school district across Tennessee must have a prevention, intervention and post intervention plan in place in regard to suicide prevention.

Although help may seem out of reach for those suffering from depression, many resources span the state of Tennessee, ready and willing to help those in need. Ridgeway says TSPN will help individuals find the treatment that works best for them, whether that’s individual counseling, group sessions, medication, or the best course of action to eliminate major stressors from the individual's life.

Start a conversation today, and you just might save a life!