June is PTSD Awareness Month

EWC has partnered with Trauma Resource Network. WHY? Because trauma is a component or result of many of our whole health and wellness concerns. Since this is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Awareness month, we thought we would talk a little about how some people are not able to cope with trauma in the long term without a little help or understanding of what trauma is and how it can be treated.

I think it is safe to say that most, if not all, people will experience at least one trauma before the age of 25. Many of us are so resilient, however, that we may not even recognize that the event could have been considered traumatic or that someone else who experienced the same thing will experience it differently than we do. Perception, experience, education, lifestyle, chemical processes, disease, and so many other things actually play into how a person experiences and interprets a single experience or conversation.

Have you ever heard someone tell a story of fear and distress, and you thought, “What on earth is that person thinking? I was there, too, and that wasn’t distressful or dangerous at all.” Well, the ideas of trauma and crisis can only be the interpretation of the person experiencing the situation or conversation. If that person thinks the experience was dangerous or distressful, then it was… to them. It is important to understand that when we assess if a person may have experienced trauma, it certainly isn’t about us and our experience, and it is all about their experience and how they can or do manage such things.

In addition, we may think that by experiencing things, often, we get used to them and can handle them better as time goes on. Well, there are actually two different things that are exactly the opposite: Brain Injuries and Trauma. the more times a person has either a brain injury or experiences traumatic events, the faster they react to them, the stronger the reactions are to them, and the less of a hit or event it takes to experience higher degree of damage or traumatic experience. You may have heard that someone exploded, emotionally, over something so little that everyone was shocked at the reaction, but we may not know how many traumas that person had endured prior to that tiny, little, “last straw” event that may have caused the most damage due to the accumulation of stress or injury prior to the event. It is the hardest part of trauma.

For people who live with PTSD, this becomes very serious. It can cause feelings of never-ending experiential trauma, even if there is no “in the moment” trauma occurring. Nightmares, flashbacks, and avoidance of situations and people can be the result of PTSD that is not treated and blows up into something really big. PTSD is a common cause of work-related absences, depression, and extremely high anxiety which just don’t go away. it is very costly to both families and to employers, to the tune of billions of dollars per year. Yes, I said billions.

Treatment works. There are many types of treatment that can be helpful, but we need to help the person overcome fear of getting help. Asking for help can be really hard, scary, and quite frankly a catalyst to the idea of job loss, if the person asks for help. Employers: Listen clearly – You have the opportunity to help employees by making it clear that they can ask for help and get treatment instead of losing their jobs. treatment is highly effective, but it has to take a step to get there. Why not help your employees get there, so you can retain the best employees and stop the loss of money due to the results of untreated PTSD.

Friends, family, and colleagues… and neighbors: You are important. Stop using stigmatizing language and stop judging people who need care. Find out how they feel and try to encourage them to get professional help. You may be saving a life and not even realize it by a few simple changes in approach.

We suggest that you get Mental Health First Aid certified and take a suicide awareness course, so you can be there for others who may be exhibiting signs and symptoms of a mental health challenge, catch it early in the process, and help them get the help they need. Be aware but don’t be demeaning or patronizing. It has to be the person’s decision to get help. If you let them know it is okay, you are doing your part. let us know how we can help you get certified and learn the signs and symptoms, so you can be prepared. We are here for you so you can be there for those around you.

Who is most at risk for suicide? ANYONE can fall into suicidal thinking. Yes. It can be anyone. You. Your child. Your elderly parent or grandparent. Research and experience, however, tell us that suicidal thinking does happen most often in certain age ranges and in certain groups of people, and those groups of people have been targetted for training and assistance to reduce the number of suicides within those groups. That training has shown great results.

As far as age ranges, let’s look at some groups of people. Three groups stand out in particular. People aged 45-60, 70-85, and 13-20 have been high rate populations, age-wise, in the USA for a couple of decades. There are a variety of reasons that these age groups of people could fall into high suicidal thinking categories including normally high rates of physical and hormonal change; high rates of developmental and health change; work, school, and family changes; social gains and losses; and emotional upheaval. Many of our elderly population tell us that they begin to feel isolated or don’t want to burden their loved ones with their decreases in functioning or poor health or they feel they have no purpose or value, any more. Younger folks often talk about bullying and being isolated. We won’t even touch on the family, relational, job, and hormonal changes that middle-aged people go though (we could go on for days).

Now let’s look at groups. When we say groups, it can mean any type of group of people that have something in common. Certain groups, however, have been identified as having high rates of suicide in the USA, and in the future, we may identify many more. For example, a recent study completed by SAMSHA found that among high school students, Asian boys of high school age are considering suicide, right now, more than any other high school-aged group in the USA (2021), which was a surprise and new information we were not expecting to hear. This will be a population they will be targetting for suicide prevention strategies which we know work. This is good information to know and identify.

Veterans: The group with the highest rate of suicice in the USA for several decades has been the veteran population. Veterans of the armed forces are vulnerable, and they resist getting help due to their very special culture. While there is a great effort to change that culture to a “asking for help is a sign of strength” culture, it has been difficult. On the other hand, we have seen great improvement. Ten years ago, we were losing more than 25 veterans a day to suicide, and if President Biden’s numbers were correct, yesterday, those numbers have decreased to 18 per day (the research showed 20 per day as of December). That means our efforts with education and a change in how the VA is changing health care and outreach is saving at least 1800-2500 veterans per year just in reducing the number of veteran suicides. That doesn’t even count those on active, reserve, or National Guard duty.

Native Americans: Native American men, especially, experience a much higher suicide rate than the general public. They have all of the suicide risk factors of the general population with the addition of living with the effects of historical and cultural trauma, geographic isolation, and high rates of poverty. One significant risk factor in a population that has high rates of suicide, like those of the Native American population is having been close to someone who has died by suicide, and many NA folks find themselves in this position.

LGBTQAIIP+: Suicidal thinking is high in the LGBTQAIIP+ population, and it is not a surprise. More than 80% of this groups reports being assaulted or threatened during childhood, alone. The rate of discrimination and prejudice directed toward these groups can significantly be linked to diminished mental wellbeing and increased depression. Additional risk factors can be linked to isolation, unfair treatment, fear of seeking help, exposure to suicide, lack of support or non-violent problem solving skills, inability to stay at work or school, and lack of acceptance. Education and training has made a significant different in acceptance and the landscape is dramatically changing, but we still have a long way to go. We are making progress. Let’s keep up the good work!

Police Officers: A little know fact is that more police officers die of suicide than die of shootings and traffic accidents, combined, each year… about 130 per year in the USA. No one wants to talk about this: They just want to villify police officers without telling you that this is a tough job, and most officers are actually good… no great. They put their lives on the line for all of us, each day. Yes, there are some bad ones (no doubt), but the majority are great… and at risk. I recently learned that there is no agency in the USA that actually keeps track of how many officers die by suicide per year. One officer took it upon himself to create an organization which collects that information, so the 130 count may actually be lower, if they have not all been reported as suicides. While depression is the most common link to suicidal thoughts, officers and corrections officers suffer higher than normal rates of PTSD. They also have a culture of stigma which prevents them from help seeking, many perhaps being afraid that they may lose their jobs if they ask for help or tell someone they are having mental health challenges or thoughts of suicide. Many opt for self-isolation or self-medication, which often turns into substance use or abuse, which can lead to substance use disorders, another risk factor for suicide.

Native Alaskans: Native Alaskans are at a higher than usual risk for suicide. This group experiences social inequities, such as poverty, lack of transportation. isolation, and lack of access to health care at higher rates than the general population. Native Alaskans also have a history of trauma which includes high rates of childhood physical and sexual abuse. Some say there is a historical and ongoing loss of cultural identity while others say that the cultural identity is simply changing, either mindset causing distress and/or conflict.

Some statistics and other group information to keep in mind:

The most common races to attempt and die by suicide in the USA: White, Native American and Native Alaskan

Women Attempt Suicide 3 times More Often than Men; however, Men Die 4 Times More Often than Women

There is 1 Suicide approximately Every 11 Minutes in the USA, about 130 Per Day

About 48,500 American Lives Are Lost to Suicide, Each Year

For every 25 suicide attempts, there is one suicide, except for the in the elderly. That number climbs significantly. In the elderly, the CDC tells us that for every four suicide attempts there is one suicide.

Knowledge is the key to suicide prevention. The more people we can educate, the better. People need to know that they are important, and you need to know how to recognize the signs and symptoms of suicidal ideation, as well as the risk factors and protective factors, so we can keep your loved ones, co-workers, employees, neighbors, and community members safe. The more we train people, the lower the percentage of people who die by suicide has been, and the more people have been getting help. Strong people ask for help. Stronger people understand that it is okay to not be okay, and it is okay to allow them to ask for help.

You can make a difference. Get trained. Ask for help if you need it, and offer help when you see someone else needs it. Ask someone, straight out if they are thinking about suicide, if they are showing signs and symptoms. You just might save a life. He matters. She matters. They Matter. You Matter.