World Mental Health Day

Poster for World Mental Health Day

In the past several decades there has been increasing awareness and acknowledgement of the importance of mental health in our lives.  World Mental Health Day, October 10th, was established in 1992 by the World Federation for Mental Health to help us—as a global community of care—to overcome barriers that prevent people with mental health challenges from accessing much needed resources and treatment.  The purpose of Mental Health Day is to increase mental health awareness and reduce stigma; increase access to quality mental health care and effective treatments; identify new treatments and improve existing treatments for all mental health disorders engaging innovative research practices.

By no means is World Mental Health Day a one day event—rather we see it as an opportunity to use this designated time to keep the focus on what matters.  This year, the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences launched the Resiliency and Well-being Center to focus on wellness, mental health awareness and suicide prevention.

Suicidal thoughts can affect anyone regardless of age, gender, or background—and often indicate more serious issues that need further assessment and proper interventions from licensed mental health professionals.  Our goal is to ensure that individuals affected by suicidal thoughts or behaviors, and their families and friends, have access to the resources they need to discuss suicide prevention and seek help.

We want any person experiencing suicidal thoughts or behaviors to have a number to call, a system to turn to, that would connect them to the treatment and support they need.

Suicide Facts

Individual Impact

  • 78 percent of all people who die by suicide are male;
  • Although more women than men attempt suicide, men are nearly 4 times more likely to die by suicide;
  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people ages 10–34 and the 10th leading cause of death overall in the U.S.;
  • The overall suicide rate in the U.S. has increased by 35 percent since 1999;
  • 46 percent of people who die by suicide had a diagnosed mental health condition;
  • While nearly half of individuals who die by suicide have a diagnosed mental health condition, research shows that 90 percent experienced symptoms.

Community Impact

Annual prevalence of serious thoughts of suicide, by U.S. demographic group:

  • 4.8 percent of all adults;
  • 11.8 percent of young adults aged 18-25;
  • 18.8 percent of high school students
  • 46.8 percent of lesbian, gay and bisexual high school students;
  • Some of the highest rates of suicide in the U.S. are among American Indian/Alaska Native and non-Hispanic white communities;
  • Lesbian, gay and bisexual youth are 4 times more likely to attempt suicide than straight youth;
  • Transgender adults are nearly 12 times more likely to attempt suicide than the general population; 
  • Suicide is the leading cause of death for people held in local jails.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), and other select sources.

Warning Signs of Suicide

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.  In 2019, 12 million American adults seriously thought about suicide, 3.5 million made a plan, 1.4 million attempted suicide, more than 47,500 died from suicide.  Almost everyone who has committed suicide have given some signs or warnings, even though some of these signs might be subtle.

How they feel and talk—signs include:

  • Feeling sad, angry, ashamed, rejected, desperate, lonely, irritable, overly happy or exhausted;
  • Feeling trapped and helpless: “I can’t see any way out of this”;
  • Feeling worthless or hopeless: “I'm on my own—no one        cares. No one would even notice I was gone”;
  • Feeling guilty: “It’s my fault, I’m to blame.”

How they behave—signs include:

  • Abusing drugs or alcohol, or using more than they usually do;
  • Withdrawing from friends, family and society;
  • Appearing anxious and agitated;
  • Having trouble sleeping or sleeping all the time;
  • Having sudden mood swings—a sudden lift in mood after a period of depression could indicate they have made the decision to attempt suicide;
  • Having episodes of sudden rage and anger;
  • Acting recklessly and engaging in risky activities;
  • Losing interest in their appearance, such as dressing badly, no longer wearing make-up or not washing regularly;
  • Rapid weight changes;
  • Putting their affairs in order;
  • Making funeral arrangements.

High risk warning signs

  • Threatening to hurt or kill themselves;
  • Possessing or having ways to kill themselves, such as stockpiling tablets or buying equipment that could be used to harm themselves;
  • Talking, drawing or writing about death, dying or suicide.
Being Prepared for a Crisis 

When a suicide-related crisis occurs we often feel caught off-guard, unprepared and unsure of what to do.  If you believe someone may be thinking about suicide:

  • Call 911, if danger for self-harm seems imminent;
  • Ask them if they are thinking about killing themselves. (This will not put the idea into their head or make it more likely that they will attempt suicide.);
  • Listen without judging and show you care;
  • Stay with the person (or make sure the person is in a private, secure place with another caring person) until you can get further help;
  • Remove any objects that could be used in a suicide attempt;
  • Express support and concern;
  • Don’t argue, threaten or raise your voice;
  • Don’t debate whether suicide is right or wrong;
  • If you’re nervous, try not to fidget or pace;
  • Be patient.

Like any other health emergency, it’s important to address a mental health crisis like suicide quickly and effectively.  If you need help or know someone who does, and this is an emergency, please call 911 immediately.

GW Resources

  • GW Colonial Health Center: (202) 994-5300 (24/7)
  • GW Life-threatening Emergencies on Campus Line: (202) 994-6111

National Resources

  • National Suicide Hotline: 1 (800) 273-TALK (8255)
  • CrisisLink: 1 (800) SUICIDE (784-2433) (24 hours) or (703) 527-4077
  • Access HelpLine: 1 (888) 7WE-HELP (888-793-4357)
  • Lifeline Chat, a service of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, connecting individuals with counselors for emotional support and other services via web chat.
Awareness Resources

It is important to address suicide prevention year-round, Mental Health Awareness Day provides us with a dedicated time to come together with collective passion and strength around a difficult topic. The truth is, we can all benefit from honest conversations about mental health conditions and suicide, because just one conversation can change a life.

Here are more resources:

We encourage you to utilize staff of GW Resiliency and Well-being Center to facilitate those discussions with your department or student group. You can reach us at rwc@gwu.edu or 202-994-7462.