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Reach out to those who may be suicidal, ND official says

MINOT, N.D.—There is hope for people who are considering suicide, but it's important for people to reach out to help those who might be in trouble, said Alison Traynor, North Dakota Suicide Prevention director.

"If you're worried about someone's mental health, ask them about suicide," said Traynor. "If their gut is telling them something's wrong, think suicide first."

Suicide prevention programs often list common warning signs that a person might be suicidal, such as changes in mood or behavior, giving away possessions, a preoccupation with death, use of substances or symptoms of depression. Other risk factors include isolation, so it's important to stay in touch with people when worried about them.

With the recent suicides of high profile celebrities, the issue is on many people's minds this month.

Many schools across the state have suicide prevention programs. One model, called Sources of Strength, puts an emphasis on the positive things in a student's life and making sure that kids in a school have contact with one trusted adult and other people in the school. Even schools that don't have a formal program can make sure that every student has at least one adult who stays in touch with them.

But Traynor said people shouldn't spend a lot of time considering possible warning signs before asking straight out whether someone they are worried about might be suicidal.

If the friend or relative or acquaintance does talk about suicide, Traynor said that person should not be left alone. Depending on the situation, a helper could drive the person talking about suicide to a local emergency room for screening or to their local human service center.

There is help available in the state. The national suicide prevention hotline number is 1-800-273-8255. In North Dakota, callers will be routed to a call bank in the state, where responders are armed with a list of local resources. The hotline provides crisis counseling for people in turmoil, but also can put people in touch with other resources, such as mental health providers or a food bank.

Traynor said the vast majority of people who receive treatment for depression will recover. Even if people feel that their situations are without solutions, there is a lot of hope for a recovery.

"Treatment can be effective, highly effective," she said.

She said it is important to show care and to offer hope.