Advocates stress suicide prevention resources, honesty: 'You are not alone'

Thursday, Sept. 10 is World Suicide Prevention Day. Although you may not know what to say, mental health advocates and suicide attempt survivors say that being open and honest is the best place to start. 

Seeing reflections in puddles and mirrors comes easy, but personal reflection can be hard and painful.

If you or a loved one needs help, there are resources available. 

"I did not know what I was. I did not know if I was loveable, acceptable, because I was gay and maybe trans," said Gabe O'Neil.

O'Neil, 34, started thinking about suicide at age 10. They made their first attempt at age 16.

"Suicide was not my first option. I didn't want to die, if I'm frank. I just didn't know to live," O'Neill said.

Gabe O'Neil

Gabe O'Neil

Annually, 500,000 Americans attempt suicide. According to Mental Health America of Wisconsin, another 30,000 die by suicide each year.

It is a crisis that may be made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The mental health consequences of COVID could be peaking for some time," said Dr. Sarah Reed with Rogers Behavioral Health

Rogers Behavioral Health has increased access to suicide screenings and is offering more telehealth and prevention programs.

Rogers Behavioral Health

Rogers Behavioral Health

Suicide warning signs vary, but Reed said it is up to everyone -- during the pandemic and after -- to trust their gut and check in with loved ones who you believe may be suffering.

"We ask someone how are you? Are you thinking about taking your life? Are you thinking about death? And be really frank," said Reed.

It can be uncomfortable, but it was finally feeling seen and loved that gave O'Neil strength.

"That was a protective factor for me that was a lifeline. Those people held hope for me until I could," O'Neil said. "You are not alone. I might feel like you are the only one to feel like you feel, but I guarantee you are not alone, even if it feels that way."

Today, the 34-year-old shares their story with at-risk teens and anyone who will listen because reaching out to help, or for help, will make a difference.