Dear Editor,

We live in a fast-paced and interconnected world where the issue of mental health has gained significant attention. The importance of mental health is no longer confined to the realm of healthcare professionals alone; it has become a concern for society as a whole. National Suicide Prevention Month is a time to shed light on the need for access to care for all and how we as a community can support each other and prevent suicide.

Suicide is a public health problem that has wide reaching impact on the individuals and families in Arizona. As one of the leading providers of behavioral health services in the state, my organization will stop at nothing to ensure people are healthy and living their best lives.

One way my organization supports mental health in Arizona is by offering training in Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA), which has emerged as a powerful tool in preventing suicide. Youth Mental Health First Aid is similar to physical first aid. Just as physical first aid equips individuals to step in and respond quickly when someone is physically hurt, YMHFA is an evidence-based curriculum and it provides the tools and skills needed to offer initial support to someone experiencing a mental health crisis, such as suicidal thoughts. The goal is to stabilize the situation and help the individual lean into the idea of seeking professional help.

Suicide affects people of all ages, genders, socioeconomic statuses, and backgrounds. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), suicide is responsible for over 700,000 deaths each year, making it a leading cause of death globally. I’ve been a therapist for years and can tell you 700,000 is more than a statistic. It’s countless stories of pain, suffering, and a feeling of hopelessness that drives individuals to take their own lives. Suicide’s impact extends far beyond the individual, leaving families, friends, and communities grappling with grief and questions about what could have been done to prevent it. If everyone had the ability to prevent tragedy, the tools to deescalate a mental health crisis, I’d like to believe we would all do whatever it takes.

All government agencies, workplaces, schools and communities should offer educational programs that teach Mental Health First Aid skills. Here’s why…

* Stigma. Stigma is when someone views another person in a negative way because they have a characteristic or personal trait that is thought to be a disadvantage. There has always been a stigma around mental health. YMHFA training promotes open conversations and understanding and helps break the stigma associated with mental health issues. When people are educated about mental health, they are more likely to recognize the signs of distress in themselves and others, reducing the fear and shame that often accompanies mental health challenges.

* Prevention and Intervention. When someone goes through YMHFA training, they learn to identify early warning signs of mental health issues, including suicidal ideation. Early intervention can be crucial in preventing a crisis from escalating to the point of no return.

* Empowerment. Providing access to YMHFA empowers individuals to take action rather than feeling helpless. They will immediately know how to respond to someone in crisis and will feel empowered to take the right action. This empowerment not only benefits the person in distress but also contributes to building a more compassionate and resilient society.

* Lifesaving Skills. Just as CPR can save a life during a cardiac emergency, YMHFA skills can be lifesaving during mental health crises. Having people equipped with the proper skills can make a significant difference.

* Access to Help for All. While YMHFA training teaches the skills to offer initial support, it also emphasizes the importance of connecting individuals with professional mental health services. Offering aid and then a link to professional help is vital for ensuring those in crisis receive the comprehensive care they need.

I believe everyone should invest in educational programs that teach YMHFA skills. They should be integrated into school curricula, workplace training, and community workshops. And it doesn’t stop there. We also need to integrate YMHFA into healthcare systems, ensuring that healthcare professionals, including doctors, nurses, and therapists, are well-versed in these skills.

The battle against suicide requires a collective effort, and Youth Mental Health First Aid can be a powerful tool in the fight. So, I challenge business, education and community leaders to make mental health first aid a priority so we as a community can be a model for preventing suicides by providing compassionate support to those in need. By educating ourselves and others, raising awareness, and integrating YMHFA into various aspects of society, we can build a world that values mental health and responds to crises with empathy and competence. Every life saved from suicide is a testament to the importance of mental health first aid in creating a brighter, more resilient future.

Chelsea Grieve, Learning and Development Specialist for Southwest Behavioral & Health Services