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Health Risk Behavior Expert Offers Suicide Prevention Insights

Yi Jin Kim

September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, a time dedicated to sharing information and resources about this sensitive and prevalent topic.

Each year, more than 41,000 people die by suicide, often as a result of untreated mental health conditions, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Sixty-five percent of all mental health professionals are social workers, and faculty in the University of Mississippi Department of Social Work are doing their part to study health risk behaviors related to mental health, including suicide.

“People normally show a sign before they commit suicide,” said Yi Jin Kim, assistant professor of social work who dedicates his research to health risk behaviors. “That’s why suicide is preventable in many cases. If we understand suicide warning signs, we can prevent loved ones’ tragedy.”

Kim described several common suicide warning signs that concerned friends and family members should be aware of, including hopelessness, excessive sadness or moodiness, sleep problems, reduced social relationships, changes in personality or appearance, self-harmful behavior, writing a suicide note, giving away personal possessions and cleaning his or her room.

Much like mental health conditions, suicidal thoughts can affect anyone regardless of age, gender or background. More than 70 risk factors are linked to suicide, but the most common root causes include a previous suicide attempt, having a family member or close friend who committed suicide, substance use and mental health issues, Kim said.

“There is a significant association between high level of stress and suicidal thoughts,” he said. “There are diverse factors that might increase stress levels, such as low income, poor relationships with others, substance abuse and low life satisfaction.

“Exercise can be an excellent method to reduce stress level. Also, it can directly reduce suicidal thoughts.”

Kim encourages anyone who notices a loved one exhibiting suicidal behaviors to act.                                

“If you think the person is in an urgent situation, call 911,” he said. “If you do not know what to do, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to get support. You may want to get professional help by calling a crisis line for advice and referrals.

“Encourage the person to see a mental health professional, help locate a treatment facility or take them to a doctor’s appointment. You can also remove lethal means of suicide, such as a firearm.”

downloadable card is available that includes contacts for several 24/7 hotlines, including the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

“Please print this and share it with anyone you believe is contemplating suicide or wants to prevent a loved ones’ suicide,” Kim said.

Students also can connect with support systems on the Ole Miss campus, including the Student Health Center, Psychological Services Center or the Counseling Center.

Amy Fisher, associate professor of social work, encourages students who are passionate about helping others struggling with mental health issues to consider a career path in social work. Licensed clinical social workers must complete a Master of Social Work for employment in supervisory, clinical and specialty practice.

“Our MSW program prepares graduates to become clinical mental health practitioners,” Fisher said. “Students receive direct training that enables to them to effectively assess suicide risk and intervene appropriately on a professional level.”

Since mental health plays such a critical role in community well-being, the department contributes to research, including health risk behavior research, to the Community Wellbeing Flagship Constellation at the university. UM, faculty work across disciplines to find new solutions to the health and social issues affecting not only Mississippi communities, but also the nation and the world.

For more information about becoming a social worker, contact the Department of Social Work at 662-915-7336 or email socialwork@olemiss.edu.

By Sarah Sapp

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