Avera Medical Minute: Importance of “Asking the Question” for suicide prevention and awareness

Published: Oct. 3, 2022 at 10:32 PM CDT
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month and it is intended to shine a light on what we can do to prevent death by suicide. But that work to prevent suicide and destigmatize mental health struggles continues all year long.

A new campaign at Avera suggests asking one simple question.

“So the important piece is, you ask the question, ‘Are you having thoughts of suicide?” said Dr. Thomas Otten Asst. VP of Avera Behavioral Health.

Officials say asking the question can be a critical starting point when someone shows warning signs of suicide. They also say it’s a myth that asking about suicide will plant a seed in someone’s mind.

“By asking that question, you will never plant the idea in their head of suicide. If they weren’t thinking about it before, that certainly isn’t going to plant it. And if they were thinking about it, that gives them an opportunity to talk through that,” said Dr. Otten.

South Dakota is seeing a surge in suicide deaths compounded by the pandemic.

Dr. Otten says that there was a record number of suicides in 2021, an all-time high in South Dakota of 198 suicide deaths.

Emily Feldhaus is fortunate to not be part of that statistic.

“I didn’t want to ask for help right away,” she said. “I thought that it would be seen as a weakness be seen as something that I couldn’t handle myself.”

Feldhaus says she has struggled with anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts for nearly two decades.

Those thoughts were getting so intense that at one point, she was admitted to the Avera Behavioral Health Center for about a week.

“That day, for whatever reason, I was absolutely petrified to go home and have these thoughts for one more night. And that’s when we decided that inpatient was the appropriate avenue for me,” she said.

Feldhaus says she’s since learned vital coping strategies. She takes medication, routinely visits a counselor and therapist, and leans on friends and family for support. And she’s honest with them and herself about her symptoms.

“By doing this I’m hoping to raise awareness that it is a very common problem and there are solutions that are proven to work and it just starts with asking for help,” she said.

But for those who may not be ready to ask for help quite yet, that’s where the ‘Ask the Question’ campaign comes in.

“That’s why it’s important to ask the question. And that’s why it’s important to talk about how we can really keep people safe,” said Dr. Otten.

More information on Suicide Prevention and Awareness and the “Ask the Question” campaign can be found at www.Avera.org/MedicalMinute.