Suicide Prevention Week 2023: Fostering Support and Compassion Across Our Profession

Man, sitting on sofa, face in palms

September marks two important dates in any mental health professional’s calendar: World Suicide Prevention Day and National Suicide Prevention Week.

This dedicated period serves as a reminder of the importance of raising awareness about suicide, advocating for mental health, and fostering a sense of unity and compassion within our communities. 

I previously wrote about the prevalence of suicide among immigrants and our role in supporting these clients. But this year, I wanted to take a different approach. 

Following on from my recent post on vicarious traumatization, I thought it would be essential to discuss the prevalence of suicide across caring professions. 

The Significance of Suicide Prevention Week: A Call to Action

National Suicide Prevention Week starts with World Suicide Prevention Day on the 10th of September. It’s a time to break the silence surrounding suicide, mental health challenges, and their ripple effects on individuals, families, and our communities.

It’s a moment to raise our collective voice against the stigma that often accompanies discussions of mental health and to highlight the importance of accessible resources, open conversations, and supportive networks. 

Acknowledging this week, we pave the way for understanding, empathy, and proactive efforts to prevent suicide.

Rates of Suicide Amongst Healthcare, Mental Health, and Care Professions

While healthcare, mental health, and care professionals dedicate their lives to helping others, they face significant challenges. 

The emotional toll of our work, combined with the stressors of the profession, can contribute to higher rates of burnout and, sadly, even suicide. The pressure to provide care, coupled with the stigma around seeking help themselves, can create a dangerous cycle of emotional distress. 

This Suicide Prevention Month, it’s crucial to acknowledge the unique struggles that can arise in our work and the impact this has on our mental health – and that of our colleagues.

Vicarious Traumatization: A Hidden Consequence

Vicarious traumatization is a phenomenon experienced by individuals who bear witness to the traumatic experiences of others. 

Healthcare and mental health professionals, who often encounter intense emotional situations, can be susceptible to this type of secondary trauma. The constant exposure to pain and distress can lead to feelings of helplessness, anxiety, and even depression

In our work with immigration evaluations, we’ll likely encounter the traumatic stories of our clients, reliving their experiences with them and supporting them through the process. It’s not uncommon that during this process, we’ll naturally find ourselves wanting to help them overcome this current hurdle in their life and see a positive outcome for their immigration case. If, for whatever reason, this doesn’t happen, we can feel the impact of this.

During Suicide Prevention Month, let’s emphasize the importance of self-care, debriefing, and accessing resources for those in our line of work. The more we talk about these things and communicate with and support each other, the better sense of community we can create.

Supporting Those Struggling in the Workplace: Recognizing the Signs

I know many of you reading this will already be familiar with the signs, but sometimes we can get so caught up in our busy schedules that we aren’t able to apply what we know to what’s happening around us.

Refreshing our knowledge and reflecting on our workplaces or homes in these contexts can help us identify where there may be some signs we need to reach out and offer support:

  1. Behavioral Changes: Watch for noticeable shifts in behavior, such as increased isolation, mood swings, or a decline in work performance.
  2. Verbal Cues: Listen carefully to conversations. Expressions of hopelessness, feelings of being a burden, or talking about wanting to die are significant indicators.
  3. Social Withdrawal: A colleague withdrawing from social interactions or avoiding team activities might indicate emotional distress.
  4. Physical Symptoms: Changes in sleep patterns, weight fluctuations, or unexplained physical ailments can manifest underlying mental health struggles.

What to Do if You’re Having Suicidal Thoughts

If you’re struggling with suicidal thoughts, remember that you are not alone, and help is available. 

Reach out to a trusted friend, family member, or mental health professional to share your feelings. In many countries, hotlines, and crisis intervention services are accessible around the clock. 

Remember, seeking help is a sign of strength, and there are people who genuinely care about your well-being.

In the United States, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 988

If you’re not in the U.S., find a local helpline or crisis center that can provide support.

Spreading Compassion and Hope

Suicide Prevention Week is a reminder that compassion and empathy can save lives. 

Let’s take this opportunity to educate ourselves about the signs of struggle, break the stigma surrounding mental health, and extend a helping hand to those in need. 

Each one of us has the power to make a positive impact and be a hand of hope in someone’s life.

Cecilia Racine: Immigration Evaluation Therapist

I’m Cecilia Racine, and I teach therapists how to help immigrants through my online courses. As a bilingual immigrant myself, I know the unique perspective that these clients are experiencing. I’ve conducted over 500 evaluations and work with dozens of lawyers in various states. Immigrants are my passion, I believe they add to the fabric of our country.

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