Suicide Prevention Month emphasizes self-care for mental health

Advocates point to virtual help available, among other sources

Less restrictive COVID-19 measures have prompted more business reopenings, but with them come fear, anxiety and stress about living safely in the pandemic.

Enter mental health advocates and nonprofits.

Elizabeth Roithmayr, director of the New Jersey chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), said studies are not conclusive regarding COVID’s effects on individual mental health, but the nonprofit has nonetheless expanded its reach to those in need.

“One of the chapters has hosted our educational programs virtually, and engaged with a larger audience and educated New Jerseyans in the roles they can play in taking care of theirs and a loved one’s mental health and educating themselves,” Roithmayr shared.

The foundation has amplified its mission of suicide prevention for September, National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Roithmayr emphasized the quarantine and limited activities have paved the way for people to reach out to others in crisis or those who need an attentive ear.

Creative hashtags and virtual town halls highlight the foundation’s commemoration of Suicide Prevention month, as other measures address youth suicide and mental health for minorities and others stressed by job losses or personal grief.

The foundation’s website — AFSP.org/KeepGoing — includes those resources and a calendar of events, one of which is World Suicide Prevention Day (Sept. 10), when interactive sessions, group chats and an awards ceremony will take place. Advocates designated the week leading up to World Suicide Prevention Day as National Suicide Prevention Awareness Week.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline — SuicidePreventionLifeline.org — and the Crisis Text Line — CrisisTextLine.org — are both participants in  the mental health initiative, among others issues.

Nearly six months since a state public health emergency was declared by Gov. Phil Murphy, Roithmayr noted, AFSP and other mental health organizations were called on to assist food banks. Volunteers and staffers have also suggested ways for a person to improve his or her mental health and reach out to loved ones.

March and April were difficult times in New Jersey, as confirmed COVID cases rose by the thousands and deaths were a daily occurrence. So, AFSP employees took to social media, advising people to consume virus news on a measured basis, reach out to loved ones for support and practice self-care.

Roithmayr narrowed self-care to three categories: mind, body and soul.

“Everyone defines it differently, but what can we do to take care of those three things?” she asked rhetorically. “If you think of some ways you would take care of your mind, it could be a daily routine, setting small goals, reading, journaling or developing a project or activity.”

Addressing the body does not just mean exercise or meditation: Consuming a favorite tea or dancing to your favorite song can help, according to Roithmayr. Addressing the soul, she further explained, calls for more personal actions like mustering the courage to ask for help beyond mental health.

Enriching the soul and mind can result from following social media sites that promote positive thinking, including positive affirmations, lighthearted and good-natured cartoons and a user’s favorite topic.

“I remember at the beginning of this, it was very frustrating for me to see people out congregating, and I had to unfollow them because it wasn’t good for my soul or my mood,” Roithmayr recalled.

She suggested people take advantage of virtual meetings with friends and family, book clubs, happy hours or reunions to enrich the soul.

The goal of the suicide prevention month, according to Roithmayr and AFSP, is raise awareness about suicide prevention and the resources people can access for help.

“During the week (of Sept. 10), we’re looking at multiple things that we are doing,” Roithmayr said. “In the tool kit, we’re going to outline how partners can participate, how to keep action going and then social media assets and we want people to be aware that September is national prevention month.

“Through our collective efforts, we want to make a difference and help each other’s lives.”

Editor’s Note: If you, or someone you know, is in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-TALK (8255) or the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741-741. Help is available.