Guam Behavioral Health and Wellness Center encourages safe suicide prevention messaging

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Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Guam Behavioral Health and Wellness Center has seen an increase in the number of island residents contacting the crisis hotline.

According to a report from the Guam State Epidemiological Outcomes Workgroup (SEOW), there were 31 suicide deaths on Guam in 2019.

Despite a slight decline from 44 deaths in 2018, Guam’s suicide mortality rate remains significantly higher than that of the US. In the midst of COVID-19, people are experiencing heightened feelings of stress, anxiety, and hopelessness. More than ever before, it is important to practice safe preventative messaging in this time of vulnerability.

While suicide continues to be a major public health concern on island and around the world, Guam Behavioral Health and Wellness Center believes that given the right framework and approach, suicide deaths can be prevented.

“Messaging matters. Focusing on hope when crafting safe, strategic, and supportive messages surrounding mental health and suicide can ultimately save lives,” said Director
Theresa Arriola.

Recognizing the warning signs of suicide will be critical in creating effective prevention messages. Signs may include, but are not limited to: withdrawal from normal routines, extreme mood swings, increased alcohol or drug use, and intensified risky or reckless behavior.

The GBHWC website contains more information on recognizing the warning signs and how to mitigate risk.

Those at risk of suicide can be easily influenced by news and social media coverage. News media are encouraged to exercise caution and avoid sensationalizing details when reporting or sharing information on suicide.

Use of appropriate language when discussing suicide is key. Certain phrases and words can
undermine prevention objectives such as “committed suicide” or referring to suicide as “successful,” “unsuccessful” or a “failed attempt.” Instead use, “died by suicide” or “completed” or “killed him/herself.” It is easy for many to get carried away on social media and speak freely, and without filter.

However, content creators are encouraged to exercise this same caution when interacting on online platforms. How these messages are conveyed can help promote positive mental health attitudes and push the conversation surrounding suicide prevention. Safe messaging on suicide also means focusing on hope by encouraging positive coping strategies and linking the community to helpful resources.

“GBHWC is committed to promoting help-seeking behaviors in the community. Suicide is preventable and how we choose to reach out to one another can make all the difference in tackling the stigma around mental health”, said Deputy Director Carissa Pangelinan.

Those struggling with thoughts of suicide, feelings of anxiety, stress, or depression can contact the GBHWC Crisis Hotline at 671-647-8833/8834 for assistance. With the 31 lives lost in 2019, the reality is that many may be contemplating suicide right now. Trusted voices in the community such as the news media and social media content creators can leverage their presence to reach and remind these vulnerable individuals that there is hope, and that help is available.

The Guam Behavioral Health and Wellness Center is located in Tamuning and is Guam’s only public mental health and substance abuse agency. GBHWC offers child/adolescent outpatient services through I Famagu’on-ta; outpatient services for youth with serious emotional disturbances (SED) or co-occurring disorders (COD) and their families, who are experiencing homelessness, through Project LINC (Linking Individuals in Nurturing Communities); healthy transition services for young adults through Project Tulaika; adult outpatient services; Professional Support Services (Psychological, Psychiatric, and Pharmacy); outpatient drug & alcohol services through New Beginnings; residential recovery homes/services; child inpatient, adult inpatient, and medication clinic services; sexual assault and abuse services through Healing Hearts Crisis Center; and Prevention and Training services through P.E.A.C.E.

The GBHWC Crisis Hotline: (671) 647-8833 is available 24/7 for anyone seeking help.

(GBHWC News Release)

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