Our CAC recently had the opportunity to interview Rhiannon O’Shea, Community Education and Information Referral Program Director for the Mental Health Association in Niagara County. September is National Suicide Prevention Month and a great time to share important information with parents and caregivers on this topic. Thank you to the Mental Health Association in Niagara County for providing us with knowledge and insight into what prevention actually means and why providing alternatives are crucial to people suffering from suicidal ideation or intention.
Can you give us a brief overview of what the Mental Health Association in Niagara County does?
“The MHANC has many supportive services for the residents of Niagara County, including many Peer services, childcare services, social inclusion programs, and education services. We don’t offer counseling but work alongside treatment, and offer additional support that helps foster a healthy, lasting recovery for mental health and/or substance abuse.”
What is your role at the Mental Health Association in Niagara County?
“I am the Community Education and Information Referral Program Director. I create and distribute educational materials like our programs and services informational brochures and flyers, create and give educational presentations on various wellness topics including Depression and Suicide, and network with other agencies/organizations in the county to provide referrals for community members county that may be helpful, often attending community events.”
What are the top things you want parents and caregivers to know during National Suicide Prevention Month?
“Suicide is seen as this horrific, unexplainable action taken by our loved ones. People who take their own lives are called selfish, even cowards. This is not the reality of what suicide is for those who attempt or complete it. Suicide is the last resort, the final answer. They no longer see another choice. We need to give them every other choice, we need to exhaust our resources and show them there’s more than the pain they know, there’s better than the things they’ve been through. The best is yet to come, and we as their loved ones need to be willing to prove this to them, support them and hear them out without judgment, without shoving our own feelings down their throat and making it about us.”
If there was one thing you want everyone to remember about suicide prevention, what would it be?
“The idea of suicide prevention means nothing without an alternative. Again, people suffering from suicidal ideation or intention don’t see another choice. Their pain and/or fear is unbearable, intolerable. Pushing prevention is useless if you don’t offer them another avenue and harm reduction, otherwise they’ll feel misunderstood and helpless. Furthermore, things like isolation and loneliness really contributed to the increase in suicide attempts and completions during COVID. People who are struggling want to feel like they belong in their family/friend group/community, etc., want to be told their worth is not based on a paycheck or grade, and long to feel accepted and loved by others.”
Is there a youth population most at risk?
“Statistic: 90% of teens that die of suicide had some form of mental illness. Children that are mentally ill end up having more barriers than children without mental illness. This can lead to isolation, struggling to meet the same milestones as others at the same time, etc. This is why early intervention and treatment are SO important, along with introducing protective factors like a healthy household and good friendships. With that being said—there is no one single cause of suicide. For example, in the popular young adult TV show “13 Reasons Why,” the plot is centered on the character Hannah’s suicide. She gave at least 13 reasons to take her life, relating to sexual assault and victim-blaming, betrayal, lack of resources and help, and feeling neglected by her family. Youth in general are at risk because we tend to consider their problems trivial compared to our own, therefore not always offering them the respect and consideration they deserve. None of this is okay. Early intervention can change lives.”
What are the warning signs that parents and caregivers should look for?
“Warning signs often display as changes in eating (eating more or less) and sleeping (sleeping more or less), talking about feeling of hopeless, helpless, or purposeless, isolation from people they love and withdrawal from the things they enjoy, and avoiding making future plans in ways that aren’t typical for them. When someone has suicidal IDEAtion, it means they’re thinking about it, and might even be talking about it. Furthermore, suicidal INTENTion means they are now planning and willing to go through with the plan. This could be exhibited as giving away prized possessions and saying their goodbyes, collecting materials to use in their plan, and refusing to open up about what’s happening with them and how they’re feeling.”
What should teachers utilize if they think a student is struggling with their mental health?
“Teachers need to make themselves trusted people. Trusted people listen kindly, giving someone their full attention when needed. They do not judge, and they are supportive and empathetic. They make you feel safe. And, most importantly, they know how to help and how to take the next step. The Mental Health Association in Niagara County is a resource of course, but anyone who is struggling needs to get treatment and learn to cope with life stressors. The MHANC also creates and distributes the Directory of Community Services, aka the “Pocket-Sized Help Book,” which can be helpful for teachers and caregivers when they want to find a resource for a child. This book has every resource for any need! Orders up to 10 are free, and can be picked up at the MHANC office in Lockport or can be delivered based on your location.”
What should parents or caregivers do if they are worried about a youth?
“Firstly, acknowledge that you’re aware something is wrong. Kids want to keep this a secret because they know that their loved ones will be unhappy, but they also feel like opening up could cause a burden for those around them. So then you need to show you care! Give them that listening ear and support, let them know they’re not alone. Lastly, encourage them to get treatment. What is absolutely key is that once the issue is addressed, any help given needs to be consistent and comprehensive. Again, we can’t teach suicide prevention without giving alternatives such as resources. And once a child falls through the cracks, it’s hard to pull them back up and earn their trust back. Finding out what’s important to them makes all the difference. Listen to them as changes come about, good or bad, and even though it hurts to hear, we can’t make them feel wrong/guilty when they’re willing to be honest about what’s going on. In fact, a barrier to children getting help is them feeling fear they’ll be punished if they’re honest about what’s going on. Or it could be embarrassing. Or they could be concerned about hurting their parents’ feelings. Let them know you’re there for them no matter what, and therefore when things change (such as a child being interested in a new therapist or alternative therapy method), they’re comfortable coming to you and expressing themselves.”
How can our readers help your organization and your mission?
- “Show us some love online!
- Facebook: Mental Health Association in Niagara County
- Instagram: mhaniagaracounty
- Call 716-433-3780 for any specific questions.
- Volunteer for our Compeer program, or get involved in other ways.
- Attend our events and the events of our associates.
- Spread awareness about what we offer.
- Take advantage of the services we have. In fact, we have a presentation on Depression and Suicide that we can give for FREE to any Niagara County group!
For text line, ANY WORD can be texted (help, talk, etc.) and they will respond. This is especially helpful for those who struggle to speak about difficult things or are in a place where they can’t safely talk out loud.
For more information on the Mental Health Association in Niagara County, visit: http://www.mhanc.com/
Lifeline: 988lifeline.org, or call 988. It’s 24/7 support.
QPR Institute | Practical and Proven Suicide Prevention Training QPR Institute: https://qprinstitute.com/
Suicide Awareness Voices of Education website: https://save.org/find-help/